Bru­tal satire takes on US elec­toral process

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

THE PURGE: ELEC­TION YEAR ★★★

Di­rected by James DeMonaco Star­ring Frank Grillo, El­iz­a­beth Mitchell, Mykelti Wil­liamson, David Aaron Baker, Kyle Secor, Ethan Phillips 16 cert, gen re­lease, 109 min As huge movie fran­chises tanked and the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign lunged deeper into apoc­a­lyp­tic ab­sur­dity, a fas­ci­nat­ing pop-cul­tural phe­nom­e­non re­mained largely un­re­ported by the grown-up me­dia.

One of the most prof­itable films of the US sum­mer (when ranked by ra­tio of tak­ings to bud­get) turned out to be a bru­tal, cake-and-eat-it satire of the US elec­toral process.

While a mega­lo­ma­niac ar­gues in favour of guns, rogue cap­i­tal­ism and in­sti­tu­tion­alised in­tol­er­ance, his fe­male op­po­nent des­per­ately seeks to move the con­ver­sa­tion back to the cen­tre.

The can­di­dates are very dif­fer­ent from Don­ald Trump and Hil­lary Clin­ton. The vil­lain is a sleek estab­lish­ment fig­ure who, though pro­fane in pri­vate, speaks smoothly in front of the cam­eras. His op­po­nent is a young sen­a­tor whose fam­ily was slaugh­tered some years pre­vi­ously. It is, nonethe­less, hard to re­mem­ber when a main­stream hit trimmed so close to the po­lit­i­cal bat­tle dur­ing an elec­tion year.

The clos­ing part of James DeMonaco’s Purge tril­ogy re­turns to a canny sce­nario that al­lows any amount of baroque may­hem. In the near fu­ture, the US gov­ern­ment sus­pends rule of law for one night in ev­ery cal­en­dar year. The “New Found­ing Fathers” ar­gue that the re­sult­ing may­hem al­lows cit­i­zens to purge them­selves of vi­o­lence. We know that the ul­te­rior mo­tive is to thin out the so­cially ex­cluded and save on wel­fare bills. (Okay that wouldn’t really work, but nor would much of Gul­liver’s Trav­els. Just stay with it.)

This year, sen­a­tor Char­lie Roan (El­iz­a­beth Mitchell) is run­ning for pres­i­dent on a prom­ise to abol­ish Purge Night.

As the shut­ters go down and the alarm is sounded, we re­alise that her op­po­nents have in­fil­trated her se­cu­rity de­tail. Fol­low­ing a con­fla­gra­tion, she ends up on the streets with a hud­dle of largely African-Amer­i­can cit­i­zens.

Elec­tion Year is not ex­actly sub­tle, but it is stir­ring to see a mar­quee film have a crack at Amer­ica’s vi­o­lent malaise. This time round, lay­ing off the self-lac­er­a­tion for a mo­ment, the film-mak­ers have for­eign­ers – “mur­der tourists” – ar­riv­ing in Wash­ing­ton to join in the fun.

What fun it is. A wo­man in di­aphanous robes dances around bod­ies hang­ing from trees. More corpses are strapped to cars. Vil­lains dress as grotesque ver­sions of Un­cle Sam. Why, it’s al­most as if we movie-go­ers are savour­ing the vi­o­lence in a film that pro­fesses to cri­tique the savour­ing of vi­o­lence.

I’m fairly sure DeMonaco grasps the de­li­cious in­con­sis­tency. It’s the best of the series so far.

It’s al­most as if movie-go­ers are savour­ing the vi­o­lence.

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