Chris Lavery takes a second look at The Purge: Anarchy.
In 2023, one year on from the events of The Purge (2013, dir. James DeMonaco), a stranger with mysterious intentions; a waitress mother and her outspoken, radicalised daughter; and a young couple on the verge of ending their relationship are all thrown together and struggle to survive the annual “purge” – one night of the year where all crime is legal.
The first Purge film, starring Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey, had at its core a single good idea which was then stretched into an 85-minute, below par, straight-to-DVD feeling feature-length film, when instead it could have made an interesting short film and an accomplished calling card for a director’s first foray into the horror genre.
By focussing the events of a nationwide, annual killing spree on one wealthy household (most likely due to its $3m budget), DeMonaco merely alluded to the large-scale atrocities, sufficiently planting the seed in the audience’s imagination of unspeakable horrors going on all around, which lent itself well (enough, just about) to the personal horrors being visited on one family onscreen.
So a year later and having grossed over $64 million with the first film, DeMonaco brings us The Purge: Anarchy. With a budget three times that of the original, the director’s been granted a larger canvas on which to paint a picture of this terrifying dystopian event in an otherwise utopian future.
This time around the director expands the focus and shows the audience exactly what goes on when all crime is legal and people can’t afford the latest hi-tech guns and barricades. Unfortunately, by showing us more of the horrors, it seems altogether less scary. The power of allusion can sometimes be the scariest thing of all.
The Purge and The Purge: Anarchy are DeMonaco’s crude social critique of an ultra-right wing society, not so much touching on as bludgeoning you over the head with, issues such as wealth inequality, race, crime and poverty. Important issues certainly, but nothing here contributes in any meaningful way to enlightened debate. Even in the first film, this same social commentary lacked nuance.
Whereas the first Purge film borrowed from many of a recent trend of home invasion horrors (2008’s The Strangers for one), the dystopian nature of The Purge: Anarchy includes nods to Mad Max, The Hunger Games, Rollerball and even Eli Roth’s Hostel, but crucially not being able to come up with one single original idea of its own (other than the premise of the “purge” itself, a premise that had been exhausted in the first film anyway).
In the end what we get is not as good as any of those films, except maybe Hostel, which was also rubbish. Watching The Purge: Anarchy felt more like watching someone else playing a video game with its boringly linear and predictable video game plot and expository video-game dialogue. The rag-tag bunch of survivors we follow throughout the film merely lurch from one violent set piece to another, allowing just enough time in between to have some talking and, you know, character development. But you soon realise there’s not one character who isn’t a one-dimensional clichéd bore whose fate you could give two hoots about.
You’re better off purging this film from your memory.