The Purge: Election Year

The Purge: Election Year is a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Billed as a dystopian thriller, it is in fact a naively hopeful, flag-waving piece of pro-American agitprop. Like The Purge (2013) and The Purge: Anarchy (2015), Election Day takes place in the near future after the economy has collapsed and a cabal of old white men called the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) has instituted an annual lawless free-for-all called the Purge to cleanse the country of undesirables and its own aggressive impulses. But in the new installment a heroic band of rebels fights tooth and nail to restore our country to its former glory.

As the movie opens, Charlene Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) is running against an evil priest (Kyle Secor) to become president of the United States. Roan, whose entire family was massacred in one of the blood orgies years earlier, would like to put a stop to the practice. Fearing that she has a real shot of winning, the NFFA conspires to have Roan’s security detail kidnap her in order to make a blood sacrifice of her at the priest’s church, but a ragtag assortment of revolutionaries and working-class heroes comes to the rescue. Most of them are people of color, in contrast to the bad guys (who include a crew of white-power mercenaries heading the kidnap plot) and to Roan, who is young, blond and blue-eyed. A black deli owner named Joe (Mykelti Williamson) gets all the best quips, though his patter about waffles and pussy is straight out of the chitlin’ circuit. These odd racial dynamics are by far the most interesting part of the movie, but ultimately the pretty blond lady prevails and all the nonwhites are either dead or forgotten.

Though the body count in The Purge: Election Year might slightly outpace our own, its vision of the near future is positively Pollyannaish when compared to ours. Joe and his comrades are on the righteous path of restoring America to its old, equal-rights-for-all glory. Even a young revolutionary who’s plotting to kill the priest is easily persuaded to spare him to serve the greater good. The way disparate factions band together in a common cause is positively utopian and seems—at least within the film’s simplistic cosmology—to justify the joyful carnage that takes up much of the running time. The rousing conclusion happens on Election Day as Roan is about to be swept into office in a landslide. We have little hope of such a neat and inspiring outcome this November.  v