Sobering political reality trumps blood-saturated fiction in the third instalment of James DeMonaco’s horror series, set in a dystopian America which has legalised murder for 12 hours every March to sate the population’s bloodlust and reduce crime levels for the rest of the year.
The original film, released in 2013, was a guilty pleasure fusing nail-biting tension with explosions of shocking violence.
A gruesome follow-up, The Purge Anarchy, fell short of expectations and now The Purge: Election Year polls a similarly lukewarm response by attempting to skewer the American political establishment.
Unfortunately, the real-life horror show of the 2016 race for the White House - a contest dripping with bile and intolerance - is far more disturbing than anything writer-director DeMonaco can conjure on screen for his beleaguered characters as they attempt to survive another night of wanton slaughter.
A potentially delicious subplot - the influx of murder tourists, who travel to America on Purge night to commit unspeakable crimes that are forbidden in their own countries - is undernourished and goes nowhere.
Eighteen years after her entire family was slaughtered on Purge night, Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) is poised to narrowly win the 2022 Presidential election by campaigning on a promise to end the annual cull.
Her rival, Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor), is a firm believer in the Purge and has the full backing of the New Founding Fathers (NFF), the shadowy political hierarchy led by Caleb Warrens (Raymond J Barry).
These men and women in tailored suits are distressed by the possibility of Roan winning over the electorate and they plot to eliminate her.
“We are going to use this year’s Purge to do some spring cleaning gentlemen!” snarls Warrens, who masterminds a scheme to undermine the security measures put in place by the Senator’s trusted bodyguard and protector, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo).
Meanwhile, as the 7pm siren to signal the start of the Purge approaches, hard-working shop owner Joe Dickson (Mykelti Williamson) and his assistant Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria) have an ill-fated run-in with two thieving schoolgirls (Brittany Mirabile, Juani Feliz) that they might regret when the blood-letting begins in earnest.
The Purge: Election Year is one hack ‘n’ slash too far for DeMonaco’s neat premise.
Plotting is flimsy and characters are thinly sketched, so we don’t have a strong emotional attachment to them.
Williamson provides comic relief to dissipate tension, almost putting a bullet in the head of one friend, who creeps up on him.
“Good Lord! It’s Purge night. You don’t sneak up on black people!” he shrieks.
Fans of earlier films will get their kicks from the gory set pieces but the lack of new ideas and directorial verve is palpable.
It’s time for a complete reshuffle behind the cameras.