Directed by: James Demonaco
Starring: frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez
The Purge has become a franchise. Who would have expected that? The first film back in 2013 made OK money so if the sequel’s budget was kept in check then maybe it makes sense. I enjoyed aspects of the first film; the dystopian atmosphere and the throwback to low budget high concept sci-fi of the 80’s. I also of course enjoyed Lena Headey who is always a joy to watch (see Dredd). The first film didn’t really play with the gimmick that set the whole story up though. Basically the Purge was defined and the film that followed was a home invasion thriller. This sequel attempts to pay more attention to the actual how’s and why’s of the Purge.
First of all this franchise is extremely high concept. If you can’t just sort of join in on the fun of it without over-thinking it there’s absolutely no way you will enjoy the first film or this sequel. Anarchy steps away from the claustrophobic home interiors in favor of the wide open spaces of the entire city. The film finds a group of people trying to survive the night having been thrust into the streets for various reasons. These people are all from different worlds; the purge just ends up forcing them together. This film is at its best when the group is on the run. There are hints of Walter Hill’s The Warriors and John Carpenter’s Escape from New York. Anarchy is never as good as either of those films but the influences are painted all over the pacing and design of these scenes.
What this sequel needed to do to make up for the first film was to elaborate on the Purge and offer a larger story, something that grounded the purge at least a little. For the most part Anarchy does just that. We learn more specifics about how the purge came to be and about a greater conspiracy behind the night’s existence. The problem is when these sorts of things are set up they have to make at least some sort of movie sense and they really shouldn’t be patronizing. What you get is bits of something that could be cool for B sci-fi and then important plot elements are left dangling and of course the whole thing just feels patronizing. Escape from New York conceptually was pretty high concept but you’ll never feel stupid for buying into it for and hour and a half. This film continuously sets up ideas and situations that could make for a cool story nugget or entertaining melodrama and then simply forgets them or leaves them behind. John Beasley plays an elderly man who has a secret. The secret is revealed and then just tossed aside. It happens over and over again throughout this movie. There’s the anti-purge element that appears out of nowhere and has no real impact on the story at all.
So if the overall plot is a mess but the man on the run situations work then really if you get some interesting characters in the mix this film can still be interesting and entertaining in a grindhouse sort of way. What you get though are wooden characters with almost no backstory. So you learn nothing about the characters you’re supposed to care about other than the bare minimum needed to push the story forward. Even the character moments, the reasons that these people all hang together are just dumb. For example Frank Grillo plays a bad-ass who agrees to help the group survive in exchange for getting access to a car that’s several blocks away. This guy seems to know everything. He’s an expert at hand to hand combat, he knows most weapons too. Are we supposed to believe he can’t just hot-wire some old beater car that’s parked on the street? The whole set up makes no sense, especially when we finally learn who he is at the end of the movie. When he finally gets the group to where they are going there’s an onslaught of terrible dialogue and several unemotionally funny lines too. Everyone in these scenes is easy to hate.
The social and political commentary that permeates this film is also not handled with a deft hand. Sure, this is definitely the kind of film where you should expect social commentary but if you are going to slam it in our faces it better be handled in a clever way. Subtly was called for here but no one was listening. This is the new gentrification I suppose, and there’s a bit of the Occupy Movement at work too.
The Purge Anarchy had potential as a B science fiction action film but it never came close to reaching it. The on the run scenes are great and the floating overhead camera style works for these sequences too but everything else in the film all the way down to casting is a miss. The only way this film works in the long run if there’s a third film in the franchise that fixes the mistakes of this one and ties everything up. Then in the inevitable box set this would be that middle movie that had a few cool action set pieces and fun character designs but overall filler.