“THE PURGE: ANARCHY” (Movie Review)
THE PURGE: ANARCHY is the worst thing a film with “Anarchy” in its title can be: boring.
Though set in the future, it’s clear that the quickly turned around sequel to last year’s home invasion hit is stuck in old ways, and holds no interest in being especially anarchic. Whereas writer-director James DeMonaco’s first film anchored its creative, outlandish idea in a confined siege story, the second squanders that seemingly anything-goes scenario in the tired arc of a man learning vengeance won’t heal his soul. What’s more, it wastes both Frank Grillo and Michael K. Williams, and quite literally abandons any compelling threads in the process.
In concept, THE PURGE: ANARCHY has the makings of something rousing. DeMonaco strives to take the audience into the corrupt warzone that an annual 12-hour crime free-for-all creates. What does that look like? And does this entirely ludicrous, pulp-ridden idea make for a hellish, stylized urban landscape, populated by bizarre, satirical roving gangs? Yeah, one would hope.
Instead, a shrill superintendent intent on sexual assault, military men and a van full of skaters that might be trying to revive nu-metal are what pose the worst threats to an ensemble of characters united by simply being out in the open. The aforementioned Grillo plays Leo, who’s using the freedoms The Purge grants to exact revenge on the man who killed his son. During the night, he aids Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and Cali (Zoë Soul), a single mother and her daughter who live in the heart of the battlefield. The three of them cross paths with Liz (Kiele Sanchez) and Shane (Zach Gilford), a couple on the skids whose car breaks down as The Purge commences.
What ensues is an odyssey through a city ostensibly full of Purgers, but which never feels tangible or on the brink of some sort of chaos. The characters endlessly remind us that they are Outside On Purge Night!, but brief flashes of a bloody stranger, a school bus on fire, or a rooftop dweller ranting about God do little to support the idea that there are people out Purging who aren’t concerned with the main cast.
Granted, they‘re under attack. As with the first film, DeMonaco is wily enough to pepper ANARCHY with the illusion of subtext. The sequel—as does THE PURGE—posits both the 1% and the government itself are attempting to specifically eradicate members of the lower and working class, as realized by the tactical squads and the film’s most entertaining section: an upper crust auction that leads to a hunting party scenario, complete with aristocrats outfitted in tweed. Similarly, Michael K. Williams essays Carmelo, the leader of a violent resistance against The Purge’s targeting of minorities and those without resources to protect themselves.
It’s a gripping thread to introduce. As of this writing however, it’s still hanging. Carmelo and his supporters appear when needed, but are just as quickly left in the dust to go where we all know Leo is headed. It’s a film’s choice to be interested in whatever it would like to be, and ANARCHY’s insistence on the well-tread tale of one man’s revenge echoes July’s other major genre release, DELIVER US FROM EVIL. Where a better PURGE film could likely be centered on Carmelo and this resistance, so could DELIVER US… have benefitted from more time exploring Sean Harris and the implications of possessed soldiers bringing something back. In that film, Eric Bana’s character parallels Leo with an exhausted arc of rediscovering faith.
At this point, this is hewing strikingly close to my review of the first PURGE—which weirdly had a reference to that year’s Scott Derrickson-directed film (SINISTER). Both have similar pitfalls, only the first remains superior thanks to its pool-room fight going unmatched here by choppy, uninspired action. That, and when it comes time for the themes to waterfall out of a villain’s mouth, Rhys Wakefield’s WASP-y home invader was far more entertaining than ANARCHY’s machine gunner.
And so, two Purges on, it still seems the most striking and affecting look we’ll get at the fictional event is in the first film’s opening titles.