In the action/horror film arena, The Purge: Election Year may be the latest to try proving the old adage that the third time’s the charm. Coming in on the heels of the previous two films in the franchise, The Purge released in 2013 and The Purge: Anarchy released in 2014, this latest addition to the franchise departs a bit from the horror and takes a decidedly more action-film orientation while also providing highly relevant commentary on the current state of affairs in America, both political and social.
The Purge films are set in a futuristic America with a government now run by The New Founding Fathers of America, or NFFA. In this new future, the government’s answer to skyrocketing poverty, crime rates, and overcrowded prisons is an annual event called The Purge. It is a 12-hour, dusk ‘til dawn time period during which all crime is legal and normal avenues of assistance such as police and emergency services are unavailable. While the first film didn’t seem to attempt to be anything more than just another addition to the horror genre, the second and third films were more ambitious in offering the political and social commentary that is indicative of true dystopian world-building, with mixed results.
The Purge, was set around one family who found themselves besieged within their own home. We were given only the vaguest idea of who the NFFA was or what they stood for. Any social commentary was limited to the idea that money and wealth leads to resentment and corruption, as the patriarch of the home under siege is revealed to be a man resented by his neighbors for making his fortune through providing home security systems that, ironically enough, are designed to protect one’s home and family during the annual purge night.
As it turns out, the best home security system in the world won’t protect you if someone inside intentionally deactivates it. Should something like this happen today in America, we can only hope that current advances in home security systems would allow for gadgets like panic buttons or remote monitoring (look here and here for more information) to compensate for such failures in human judgement. And of course, a dose of common sense when setting up passwords and due diligence in monitoring access could save home occupants a world of trouble.
The second film, The Purge: Anarchy, widened its scope to encompass all of Los Angeles, and provided slightly more emphasis on relationship building as three separate groups of people are thrown together by circumstances and the desire to survive purge night. There is again only a fuzzy sense of what the NFFA stands for, and emphasis is once again on shock value rather than social commentary. However, this film does begin to set up The Purge as being almost religious and certainly fanatical in nature by describing it as a “cleansing,” in an effort to get more participants.
Finally, the latest addition, The Purge: Election Year, serendipitously released during one of the most controversial presidential elections in history, provides concrete answers to who and what the NFFA truly are. In doing so, the parallels to the current political and social state of our country are much clearer. The NFFA are backed by the wealthy, by the NRA, and by various conservative and fundamental Christian groups. The presidential candidates are on polar opposite sides regarding the ideology behind the purge, and there is plenty of social commentary on the current state of racism and violence in our country, as seen from within and through the eyes of the rest of the world.
Frank Grillo returns in his role of Leo Barnes, police officer in Anarchy turned security chief for presidential candidate Senator Charlie Roan, portrayed by Elizabeth Mitchell. It is Roan’s desire to end The Purge once she’s elected that fuels the political commentary when her rival tries to engineer her death during the current purge night. Roan’s reasoning behind this desire, namely that it targets mainly the poor and racial minorities, fuels the parallels to the current climate of police violence, the ongoing arguments over gun control laws, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
By elevating the legal violence of Purge night to something akin to a religious experience, Election Year provides further commentary on the lack of rationality that generally characterizes religious zeal and emphasizes how blurred the lines between church and state have become. While more a combination of dystopian film and action/horror film, rather than a distinct example of either, The Purge: Election Year provides an entertaining theater experience while shedding light on the absurdities of our current state of affairs in America.
Written by Maria Rosita
Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy.
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