James DeMonaco’s The Purge: Election Year is the third addition to The Purge franchise and was released in 2016, just before the contentious 2016 presidential election. As you can see in the above poster, which reads “Keep America Great,” the real-life presidential election played a major component in the film’s marketing. According to the film’s IMDB page, “each Purge installment has earned more money at the box office than its predecessor. A rare feat for horror/thriller film franchises.”


The Purge: Anarchy takes place seventeen years after the sequel (The Purge: Anarchy), it is probably the year 2025, and Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) has become head of security for Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a presidential candidate. Barnes is so committed to helping Roan stay safe so she can become president because she is running on an anti-purge platform. His desire for revenge from the sequel is referenced throughout this film. The purge is revealed (once again) as an institution that primarily targets the poor and weak, allowing the government to not have to provide so much welfare as would be required if there wasn’t a night full of murder every year. A secondary plot-line, focusing on a Washington, DC deli owner, Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson), his employee, Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), and close friend Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel) as they both protect themselves, the neighborhood, and the deli (it’s all Dixon has and he just recently lost his “purge insurance” due to rising costs the night before the purge). Eventually, both plot lines intersect after a betrayal causes Roan and Barnes to take to the streets in order to survive the night. When Roan is captured by the New Founding Fathers of America (or the NFFA, the most powerful political party) to participate as a sacrifice in their annual, yet secretive, “Purge Mass,” Barnes, with the help of Dixon, Marcos, Rucker, and activist Dante Bishop, manage to rescue her. The film ends on election day, with news announcements declaring that Roan seems to be the clear winner. However, there are also news reports that members of the NFFA, upset at the news of Roan’s potential success, have taken to the streets, committing murders and other acts of violence.

Promo shot of Barnes and Roan on the streets during Purge Night.

What’s up with that?

  • The concept of the American dream is a major theme within the film. Dixon tells Marcos that he plans to give Marcos the deli when he retires because he wants Marcos, an immigrant from Mexico, to experience the American dream. However, it seems like the NFFA policies are constantly undermining the American dream- Purge night focuses on getting rid of the poor so that the government doesn’t need to support them through welfare.  Additionally, Dixon must purchase “Purge insurance” in order to rebuild his deli every year. However, the American dream is not completely destroyed: by the end of the film, Marcos is able to take over the deli and he appears to be rebuilding it without issue. Also, Barnes has managed to become head of security for a presidential candidate (he was a police sergeant in the second film) through his desire for both revenge and justice, while Roan has become a major presidential candidate (and, it seems, the president) through a similar desire for revenge and justice after the murder of her entire family on purge night.
  • Technologies of surveillance- a drone follows Barnes and Roan after they escape from her home following the betrayal. Barnes manages to shoot it down. They later discover that Barnes had been shot in the shoulder, not with a normal bullet, but with a tracking device.
  • White supremacy- the NFFA hire a team of white supremacists to capture Roan and bring her to their Purge Mass. These white supremacists are a trained private militia with a considerable amount of expensive hi-tech weaponry.
  • In this film, the concept of “murder tourism” is introduced. In the world of The Purge, a number of rich and young foreign tourists travel to America on Purge Night in order to experience what it feels like to commit murder. It also seems like a number of these tourists specifically want to kill Americans. There is a group of murder tourists who dress in costumes based in American iconography, such as the Statue of Liberty and Uncle Sam.

Some “murder tourists” in costume

  • Some interesting mise en scenes include the major Washington, DC monuments and sites covered in blood.

The Lincoln Memorial on Purge Night

Some of the marketing of the film also tapped into American memorials and iconography. Take, for example, the French poster.

The film also features images which tap into the darker parts of American history and culture.

  • The Purge: Election Year also, at times borrows its formatting from television news or computer screens. Major plot lines are provided through news casters.

The Purge: Election Year (2016) by Caitlin Duffy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.