THE PURGE: ANARCHY
2014, R, 103 mins.
2014, R, 103 mins.
Frank Grillo as Leo / Carmen Ejogo as Eva / Zach Gilford as Shane / Kiele Sanchez as Liz / Zoe Soul as Cali
Written and directed by James DeMonaco
THE PURGE: ANARCHY is, of course, a sequel to last year’s THE PURGE, but it feels more like a subtle reboot than it does a follow-up entry in the series…and that’s kind of a good thing.
James DeMonaco is back at the helm, attempting to carry forward the
somewhat involving and fascinating premise of his introductory film,
which, more or less, never materialized as a fully developed entity to my
satisfaction. Now comes
ANARCHY, which further exploits this same high concept premise with perhaps
even more grisly and unnerving effect, and even though this sequel still
left me scratching my head and asking the same logical questions as its
antecedent, I nevertheless found myself being won over a bit more by this
new film as a fairly well oiled and intense grindhouse action picture.
those of you that missed the first film, here’s a rundown of its
premise: Set in the early 2020’s, the United States has become a nation reborn
under a new breed of “Founding Fathers”, during which time
crime and unemployment is ultra-low, if not non-existent.
In this semi-utopian America the new ruling government has decided
that the best way for people to deal with their lingering need to hurt one
another is to engage in a yearly “Purge” – a 12 hour period when all
criminal activity (including murder) is legal (wanna kill your boss...no problem!). The government’s motives for the annual Purge is to allow
all American citizens to vent out all of their hostile and aggressive
feelings towards one another. Granted,
how those potentially psychotic feelings precisely begin at midnight and
then promptly end at 6 am is a peculiar question that this film and its
prequel never really adequately answer…but never mind.
first PURGE (which starred the typically resourceful and stalwart Ethan
Hawke) was, more or less, a home invasion thriller set within this wacky
refreshingly opens things up considerably to portray this yearly event of
nocturnal bloodletting occurring in and around an unspecified city’s
streets. Set one year later,
this sequel focuses on new characters, most specifically a “man with no
name” Sergeant, played by Frank Grillo, who seems to have one of those
gloriously rugged faces carved out of granite, making him ideal for action
vehicles such as this. He’s
arming himself to the teeth and is about to enter his heavily fortified
car to journey into the hellish streets during The Purge to seek vengeance
on someone that has clearly wronged him (details of what precisely has
prompted him to action are kept secret until later in the story).
the Sergeant’s lust for bullet spraying revenge are cut short when –
DAMN IT! – his conscience kicks in when he sees a series of innocent
bystanders stranded on the city streets that are about to be killed by some
ruthless Purgers. He rescues
the four of them, including a mother, Eva (Carmen Ejogo), her daughter,
Cali (Zoe Soul), and a husband and wife, Shane and Liz (Zach Gilford and
Kiele Sanchez). The Sergeant
realizes the severity of his actions in helping these people, seeing as
they obviously can’t be left on the streets alone to die what would be
horribly prolonged and vicious deaths.
While the Sergeant tries to protect the group from the worst that
The Purge has to offer – while trying to make it to his own Purge
destination – the group discovers that the government that began the
annual ritual itself has sent out task forces into the city to stop an
underground anti-Purge rebellion. Predictably,
things snowball for everyone at an alarming pace.
PURGE; ANARCHY works best, I think, when it focuses less on the dark underbelly of its premise and instead just hones in on
being a gritty B-grade action flick.
There is certainly a socio-political agenda to the film that’s as
obvious and lacking in subtlety as the first film.
To be fair, the film attempts to aim its satiric crosshairs at some
ambitious targets, like how The Purge seems to accentuate the economic
class disparity between the one per centers and the remaining 99 per cent,
the latter whose wealth and material comfort gives them an unfair advantage of using
the poor for their own ghastly means during The Purge (as is the case in one
haunting sequence, during which time a Bel Air-like family of affluence pays a poor, elderly
black man to be their Purge victim, with the money being funneled to his
needy family members back home in the slums). There’s another sickening sequence involving the rich
having an auction – which the “heroes” find themselves unwilling
participants in – where they bid on captured souls to facilitate their
twisted needs for bloodletting.
The film’s unrelenting portrayal of seemingly all rich people as
bloodthirsty sociopaths may be a bit too on the nose.
there’s much to admire in the film as a dystopian action thriller,
especially if you’re willing to forget the manner that DeMonaco
maliciously browbeats the film’s would-be intelligent and sobering
social commentary. When
he gets to the meat and potatoes action beats of the film – during which
time we see the Sergeant and company desperately try to evade one wave of
Purge-hungry lunatics after another – then ANARCHY manages to elicit the
same level of low-rent, but satisfyingly straightforward exploitation
thrills that permeated the early films of John Carpenter.
Moving things out of the tight confines of the home (as on display
in the first film) and moving them into the dangerous streets was a wise
move for this series in terms of opening things up.
The geographical expansion of the story also gives the film a
stronger pulsation of escalating dread and tension.
By the time the film builds towards its final twenty or so minutes
– during that aforementioned auction sequence, where the Sergeant
engages in mini-guerrilla attacks on the yuppie, machine gun and axe
wielding societal freaks that want him and his companions dead –
DeMonaco seems to be fully embracing the sheer absurdity of the film in
ways that the first entry didn’t.
PURGE: ANARCHY sure wants to have its cake and eat it too.
In a way, you can’t engage in damning social commentary about a
world of tomorrow and its state sanctioned violence and
great relish in throwing numbing gore on the screen for sensationalistic
effect. This, of course,
leaves films like THE PURGE and ANARCHY feeling a bit smugly hypocritical.
Alas, even with all of the poor character dynamics (let’s face
it…the personas in the Sergeant’s clan are all essentially victims
being served up for the slaughter and aren’t compelling creations) and
noble-minded, but mostly empty thematic sermonizing, ANARCHY still
emerges as a more effectively crafted follow-up to THE PURGE, and one
that’s not necessarily smarter, but sure is darker, bleaker, and more
action-packed. The film simply embraces its visceral survival horror
thrills with a teeth-clenched gusto.
ANARCHY doesn’t leave you pondering its premise as much as it
thinks it does, but as far as slickly made urban action-pressure-cookers
go…it gets the job done. .