A film review by Craig J. Koban October 31, 2014 


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.   

Writer/director 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.   

For 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. 

The first PURGE (which starred the typically resourceful and stalwart Ethan Hawke) was, more or less, a home invasion thriller set within this wacky universe.  ANARCHY 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). 



Unfortunately, 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. 

THE 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. 

Still, 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. 

Yes…yes…THE 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 simultaneously take 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.  .

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