The Purge: Election Year was released thirteen months after President-Elect Trump’s announcement of his candidacy, giving the producers plenty of time to tap into the periodic emotional frenzy of democratic societies. The theatrical poster evoked the themes of Trump’s campaign, including the tagline “Keep America Great.”
For those unfamiliar with the Purge series, it portrays a near-future USA where a pseudo-fascist nationalist party rules with popular approval. Once a year, in an extreme hybrid of ancient Greek ostracism, eugenics, and Escape From New York, all laws are suspended for 24 hours. While most people with the means and organization (middle-class and above) seal up in their homes and wait it out, some venture out into the wild to enact some extra-legal justice or to unleash the beast within them in psychopathic violence. The more disorganized areas of the country, like urban ghettos, predictably devolve into a melee of chaos that leaves a good portion of the population dead.
Interestingly, in the movies’ internal history, this policy has resulted in a healthy economy and 1% unemployment rate, as well as widespread popular support. The movies portray the Purge as a time of fear where families cower in the fortress-like homes, but what would really happen if professional law and medical services were removed (with warning)? Look to the behavior of American pioneers: common citizens join together for protection in times of danger, such as savage redskin attacks. In this light, the Purge seems like a way to weed out those communities incapable of such basic organization.
In Election Year this becomes explicit, accompanied by the anti-majority ethnic animus which has reached a fever pitch over the past decade. The establishment — apparently all conservative white males of Anglo-Saxon heritage — are under threat by a new, exciting candidate in the form of a white woman with hipster glasses. After a failed assassination attempt, she and her gay-looking bodyguard end up with a group of various ethnic minorities from poor neighborhoods.
They fight their way back to safety against a cadre of stereotypical evilwhites including militia men with Confederate/Nazi flag patches and Russian tourists. Long story short, our oppressed heroes join up with the multicultural Rebellion ripped off from Star Wars for the millionth time, and win over the evil conservative white people in the end. The Purge is ended forever, and the incompetent are safe again.
Unlike the first Purge film, this fails even on the level of exploitation/thriller by wasting most of the screentime with its bloated moral message. It performed well at the box office due to the political tie-in, suggesting producers will attempt more such movies, but the surprise majoritarian electoral upset may have changed the cultural taste. Already the tropes trotted out in this movie seem like the tired cliches of a past age.