A Second Look at ‘The Purge: Anarchy’

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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.

 

 

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The Purge: Anarchy

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DIR/WRI: James DeMonaco    PRO: Michael Bay, Jason Blum, Andrew Form, Bradley Fuller , Sebastien Lemercier DOP: Jacques Jouffret   ED: Vince Filippone, Todd E. Miller   DES: Brad Ricker MUS: Nathan Whitehead   CAST: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zoe Soul, Kiele Sanchez, Zach Gilford

 

The year is 2023, and the annual “Purge” is about to take place across the USA. All crime is legal from 7pm until the good ol’ morning light of 7am the next day, and it means anyone can grab a gun – or flamethrower or axe or machete – and go out and “purge” themselves.

 

There are no laws, no consequences and no police or ambulance will come running: this is a “Founding Fathers” America, and you either barricade yourself in your house or you get out there – and Leo (Frank Grillo) is definitely locking and loading for this gunstravaganza. Oh, he has a target in mind.

 

Not happy to be outside are breaking-up couple Liz and Shane (Sanchez and Gilford) whose car breaks down and leaves them on the streets when the siren sounds. Elsewhere, hard-working waitress Eva and her daughter Cali (Ejogo and Soul) are battening down the hatches – but even then that doesn’t mean that the Purge isn’t coming calling into their happy home.

 

Outside, there are also huge trucks roaming the streets alongside the masked marauders, bloodthirsty gangs and watchful snipers, and these trucks are packed with army-style teams who seem to have specific targets in mind too, and when Eva and Cali are grabbed, Leo sees – and this time, just can’t “drive away.”

 

He rescues them both, and soon they collide with the pursued pair of Liz and Shane – and now there are five. Only one of them is really ready for action, but aside from the maniacs, murderers and truckers, there are other forces; a revolutionary group led by Carmelo (Michael K. Williams), who preaches that the people have had enough of wanton murder, and that it’s really the rich who love this deadly annual playground.

 

For him and his followers, it’s time to take it back. For Leo’s gang, they need to stay alive. Either way, the clock is ticking…

 

Set the year after The Purge – a 2012 medium-sized hit that had a undeniably interesting premise – The Purge: Anarchy comes to screens as the USA is once again embroiled in a seemingly-endless series of shootings, and certainly initially plays on that travesty well (even if Carmelo and his rebels are way too like the Black Panthers, and the idea that rich=bad and poor=treated like scum could have been twisted like a stiletto, rather than butter knife).

 

 

Also, The Purge was more based around an intense domestic attack, and was more frightening and up-close-and-personal. Here though, nearly everything happens outside – a more dangerous place to be. That said, having a group of four strangers and just one leader leads to some unevenness; too often Leo tells the quivering bunch to “wait here” while he takes care of business, and none of them really ever step up to the plate.

 

That uneven feeling dominates as the story progresses, especially after the midpoint – a good scene where we see that the family home isn’t always the safest place to be – when it gets rather disjointed, turning into a kind of pseudo video game as the group are captured and then auctioned off for hunting by the rich in a kind of fake country estate paintball arena.

 

Leo does the lion’s share of the work there as well, before he finally gets back to the job in hand. So, despite the protests of idealistic teenager Cali and Eva will he kill, despite having saved? That’s for cinema-goers to find out, though a couple of things are certain: that there will be another “Purge” next year, and that America’s love of guns will keep making this movie seem scarily plausible.

James Bartlett

16 (See IFCO for details)
103 mins

The Purge: Anarchy is released on 25th July 2014

The Purge: Anarchy – Official Website

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