Do you remember how dumb The Purge sounded when it was first released? It was a formulaic home invasion film set in a vaguely futuristic society where all crime is legal for 12 hours. Why even go to the lengths to provide a backstory like that when legality has never once mattered in any horror movie ever? I’d rather re-watch The Strangers. Also, having all crime legal for one night makes no sense. Can I write my landlord a letter saying I’m no longer going to pay my rent because I’m stealing his home on purge night? Or am I only allowed to murder him and then take his home? I love horror movies with every bone in my body and I was certain I would never waste time on any of this garbage. I like some pretty shitty horror films, but even I was above this.
Until, in a fit of boredom, I ended up seeing The Purge: Anarchy and I loved every minute. The themes of class war, inequality, and the government conspiracies to keep the poor disenfranchised reeled me right in, and watching rich white old people die ridiculous deaths was just the icing on the cake. It was the most fun horror action film I’d seen since You’re Next and that movie is almost perfect. So I was excited out of my goddamn mind to watch The Purge: Election Year. Dropping all the home invasion nonsense and focusing on the more political aspects of their (still incredibly bonkers) universe was a great idea and I couldn’t wait to see them take it a step further.
The thing is… Election Year is one of the least subtle movies I’ve ever seen. The movie follows a series of attempted assassination attacks on an anti-purge senator in D.C. throughout Purge Night, and it does not pull any punches. Yes, there is a scene where someone is purging in front of the Lincoln Memorial and yeah, it was so bad I laughed out loud. Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast watching it. Still, I made a crucial mistake. I forgot how goddamn corny horror movies can be. I forgot that nine times out of ten you should not trust them to make salient political points.
Not that there aren’t some great things in Election Year. Horror is an infamously conservative genre and we all know the rules for who dies first in a horror movie. I love that the last two Purge movies have subverted that by having a more diverse cast of characters. I love that both Anarchy and Election Year are not afraid to go hard and show the ugliness of the situation. Yes, its dystopian society is stupid and insane, but how many horror movies do you know of that would directly call out the NRA? I love that a hooded black man is the true hero of the movie, but damn, you could not call that subtle.
And that’s not saying Election Year doesn’t have it’s flaws. It has a ton. Despite it being one of the more socially aware horror movies you’re going to see, the writers have still fallen back on weird stereotypes. The aforementioned hero, Joe Dixon, owns a convenience store in D.C. and is prone to yelling, “awwww shiiiit,” and don’t even get me started on his Crip past. Then there’s other scenes, like when a high school girl threatens to scream rape when she’s caught stealing candy. I get it’s supposed to show that she’s a little off kilter, but I guess in my heart of hearts I thought The Purge wouldn’t be the kind of movies that would have a throwaway line like that. Not when women are accused of lying about rape all the time forever.
The kind of cognitive dissonance you have to deal with when loving a genre like horror is weird. There’s no reason for me to be disappointed in the film’s lapses when I’ve accepted I’m going to sit down and watch a movie where people violently murder each other with reckless abandon. In fact, sometimes I’m going to be actively rooting for that violent murder. I’m glad The Purge series is subverting some nasty horror tropes, but it’s hard to be a movie that seems to be anti-violence when its entire shtick is that it’s violent. Oh, and it suffers from a series of white savior problems. Sure, our anti-purge senator is always being rescued from various assassinations, but it’s her who is supposedly going to be saving the entire country from purging come election day (which is in May for no good reason). Despite its wins, there really are a whole host of problems.
If you love horror, if you love action, if you love people dressing up like creepier versions of Uncle Sam and the Statue of Liberty, go see Election Year. You’re probably going to have a good time, just don’t expect too much of it. Also, the soundtrack is amazing. There are only five songs played during the entire movie and they’re all perfect. I promise.