Let us now praise creepy masks and class warfare! Over the course of two movies, producer Jason Blum’s future-shlock horror franchise about a government-sponsored holiday of lawlessness has gone from yuppie siege thriller with an intriguing premise to pulpy-as-fuck social critique; the leap from 2013’s original installment to 2014’s highly politicized The Purge: Anarchy is damned near quantum. For this threequel, director James DeMonaco and co. double down on the populist anger and throw in a powderkeg Presidential election to boot, pitting blonde Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), who’s campaigning on a strict anti-Purge platform, versus a blustery Trump avatar. (To be fair, her opponent is really a Frankenstein’s monster composed of spare parts from Mitt Romney, John McCain and various GOP silver foxes — he might as well be called R.E. Publican.)
Meanwhile, a room full of scheming old white men, i.e. the Powers That Be, want her out of the way. If that means hiring some racist skinhead mercenaries to off the potential POTUS on Purge night, hey, a status-quo-loving elite’s gotta do what a status-quo-loving elite’s gotta do.
Before the commencement klaxons go off, however, we meet the rest of our heroes: Joe (Justified‘s Mykelti Williamson), the owner of a local deli that doubles as a neighborhood town hall; Laney (Betty Gabriel), a former gangster alpha female who doubles as a paramedic; and Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), a Mexico City transplant that happens to be a crack shot when shit goes down. (Immigrants: They get the job done.) And yes, Frank Grillo — our generation’s Lee Marvin, if we’re lucky — returns as Leo Barnes, the previous movie’s badass now working security detail for the Senator. In other words, when there’s politician-protecting, arm-breaking, neck-stabbing and self-inflicted bullet removals to be done, he’s your man.
Once an attack forces Roan and Leo into the streets, and the rest of the movie’s good-guy factions join up with them to make it through the next 12 hours, Election Year breaks out the maniacs in blank-faced masks and baroque B-movie touches — a killers’ car covered in white Christmas lights, a guillotine sideshow, a Pit and the Pendulum-style booby trap — that’s become the franchise’s aesthetic stock in trade. It also offers up the most diverse ensemble casting this side of the Fast & Furious flicks, an ecstatic church-and-state “mass” that plays like a Fox News wet dream, some genuinely disbelief-suspending plot devices, and the sort of camp-nip quotables (“The original founding fathers are about to fuck up the new founding fathers!”) designed to further rile audiences already drunk on hootin’, hollerin’ bloodlust.
Mostly, though, what The Purge: Election Year delivers is a sort of come-one-come-all chance to rage against the machine. Despite the left-leaning ideology embedded into the series’ DNA, it’s still a bit of a political Rorschach test: You can look at Soria’s hero as an example of pro-immigration tendencies, and see the roving packs of Euro “murder tourists” as pandering to the xenophobic crowd (“Foreigners coming to our country,” intones a news reporter, “to kill!”). And for all of its protagonists’ anti-Purge liberalism, the story sure gives a lot of ammo to the pro-Second Amendment, “the only way to handle a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with gun” crowd.
Rather, the film’s real currency is simply a nonpartisan free-floating us-vs-them anger, in which a put-upon underclass finally gets payback and a one-percenter upper class finally gets its comeuppance. You can be a pissed-off Tea Partier or an Occupy advocate and find something here to stoke your fat cat hatred; either way, catharsis is doled out not in a dusk-til-dawn homicidal free-for all but two harmless hours in a theater. Election Year‘s only real stance — besides be sure to vote in November — is that America is violence. God bless the U.S.A. God save us all.