Every Patriotic American Should Watch ‘The Purge: Election Year’
Third time’s a charm for this B-movie horror franchise
by MATTHEW GAULT
A sensible compact car covered in strings of glaring Christmas-tree lights cruises down an abandoned city street. A younger, more innocent Miley Cyrus croons about a party in the USA … but it sounds wrong. The songs tempo is sluggish and Cyrus sings just below her normal register — a perversion of a perfect pop song meant to unsettle. It works.
Teenage girls wearing torn lingerie and grotesque masks slide from the car and brandish rhinestoned AK-47s. The nightmare nymphets want into Joe Dixon’s locked convenience store. An afternoon shoplifting attempt stymied, they’re back for the candy.
“I already killed my parents,” the leader says. “I want my candy bar.”
Dixon mans the rooftop with a rifle and a beer cooler. He’s helped by Marcus, his loyal employee — an immigrant who still somehow believes in the American Dream. Marcus looks down the barrel of the rifle and cleanly removes the ear from one of the teenage punks.
It’s Purge Night in the United States of America, 12 hours of legally-sanctioned, unadulterated crime. What began as a teenage misdemeanor has become a psychopathic siege. The annual purge brings out the very best and very worst of America.
There’s something about The Purge that tickles the American public. This B-movie horror franchise has transcended its schlock-shock beginnings to reflect our current political rhetoric and a frustrated people hungry to justify a long-subdued violent instinct.
The franchise has cultural impact greater than the sum of its box-office grosses. Late-night talk-show comedians reference it during their monologues, websites write think-pieces about how it could happen and controversy hungry local-news outlets report Purge-related rumors with bated breath.
Yeah … there’s something about The Purge. In an election year where a failed real estate mogul-turned-reality T.V. charlatan-turned-populist grime pump is stirring up the cruel and reactionary forces of the American polis, The Purge: Election Year seems almost too on the nose.
For the first time in recent memory, we have a viable presidential candidate who advocates violence among his supporters. How great a leap is it then, to a world where violence becomes policy?
It is an election year. I’ve watched things I never thought possible become reality. The Great Golden Trump turns the Republican war horse into a pin of frightened infants and devours them whole. It was fun to watch at first, but now I’m horrified. Not just by his statements, but by his followers and their vitriolic fervor.
Violence follows this presidential candidate wherever he goes. He inspires it, revels in it then objects when anyone suggests he may incite it.
We’re a violent nation. I enjoy firing guns, swinging swords and watching horror films. I’m an American for whom violence is equal parts history and entertainment. Like baseball and barbecue, violence is an American pastime. I’m not immune to the thrill — nor to the guilt.
That’s the naughty secret of The Purge franchise — we watch because we’re horrified by it, but also because everyone can think of at least one person to put on their list. Violence is one of the purest forms of freedom. So is the freedom of choice.
That’s the ugly ichorous heart of the American people Trump appeals to, a heart that revels in mountains of weapons and little accountability, one that thinks the United States could use more violent solutions to our problems.
Just ask a 2nd Amendment fundamentalist what stops a bad guy with a gun.
The Purge: Election Year is the third film in the franchise. If you’re not familiar, The Purge movies takes place in a near future dystopia where a revolutionary group called The New Founding Fathers took political power and passed a radical amendment — for one night a year, all crime, including murder, is legal.
It’s a great premise whose promise the films never quite fulfill. The first film follows an affluent family led by Ethan Hawke as they fend off trust-fund thriller-killers and their jealous neighbors. Hawke’s face is eminently punchable and his character’s status as a man who sells purge-proof security systems makes it hard for the audience to sympathize.
The sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, does a better job. The audience follows a decent rip-off of Marvel Comics’ Punisher as he rampages through a city hellbent on revenge. Along the way, he picks up some unfortunate folks who find themselves out past dark, helps a few innocents and learns a few lessons. It’s better, but forgettable — a popcorn flick with some good shock value but not much more.
The Purge: Election Year is unsettling in its perfection. It’s another purge night in America, but this time the political elites have a problem. Sen. Charlie Roan is out for the elimination of senseless bloodshed. Years ago, she lost her entire family on Purge Night while listening to the killer’s special purge-night mix tape with a grand finale compliments of Parliament Funkadelic.
Now Roan is running for president on a platform to reinstate law and order. Those unable to afford the purge insurance or unable to protect themselves are taking a stand with their votes, and the polls have her close enough to winning that the New Founding Fathers decide to use the evening to rid themselves of Roan and her radical ideas.
The Purge: Election Year transcends its two predecessors in big ways. This movie isn’t just about surviving the night, it’s about America deciding whether to be the American dream or the whole world’s nightmare.
When Roan calls for the rights and welfare of the disenfranchised, it isn’t a stretch to conflate them with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ demand for equal taxation of the wealthy and poor.
In another world not far enough from our own, would those with wealth and power assemble a hit-list of our strongest voices for the yearly purge? Would our soon-to-be Republican presidential candidate find a way to televise the event?
The characters are more memorable this time, too — better written and acted. Anarchy’s stone-faced Punisher stand-in is back and he’s just as uninteresting as he was the first time around. But the screenwriters wisely added a group of normal people whose interactions feel real and believable.
Dixon, Marcos and former gang-member Laney Rucker are relatable, believable and the folks you’d want to be with on the worst night of your life.
They imbue the film with tenderness and don’t let it stray too far into the dark heart of America. The three add tremendous humanity to what could easily be a gore-fest populated by stereotypes and cardboard cutouts.
Roan and her pack of protectors represent some of the best aspects of America. Dixon built his store over years of hard work, Rucker changed her life to help others and Marcos is an immigrant who, despite everything, believes he’ll succeed if he works hard enough.
I love America. The dusty pack of 18th-century white dudes who founded the country on Enlightenment ideals did a lot right. America oversaw the birth of flight, the connecting of the world through the internet and the destruction of countless diseases. It’s the birthplace of jazz, rock ’n’ roll and country music. It put a man on the fucking moon.
But there is a dark and terrible side to the United States. One that knowingly allowed syphilis to ravage a black community, tried to create LSD-brainwashed super-soldier slaves and tortured people in the name of freedom.
The red, white and blue are as gaudy as they are beautiful. Look under every patriotic image to find its horrific underside. It’s always there.
The Purge: Election Year demands audiences reckon with that.