The Purge came and went without much fanfare. It had an interesting premise (which spawned the #CrimeDay Twitter game here on Flixist), but wasted it with a by-the-numbers home invasion film. When The Purge: Anarchy was first announced (along with the sentiment that we’d get a new Purge film every year), I was initially against the idea of yet another mediocre franchise getting run into the ground.
But, Anarchy has something no other Blumhouse Productions film has (the company that’s responsible for Paranormal Activity and Insidious): Quality. For once, I found myself okay with getting more of the same series.
If every Purge film can be as good as Anarchy going forward, then we’re in for a hell of a good time.
The Purge: Anarchy
Director: James DeMonaco
Release Date: July 18, 2014
A year after the events of the first film, during the sixth annual Purge (a 12 hour period in which all crimes, including murder and eating zoo animals, are legal), “Sergeant” (Frank Grillo) wants to use the Purge as a way to get vengeance for the death of his son. But during the night, he comes across four different people: a couple whose car broke down leaving them stranded, and a mother/daughter pair, then after some spoilery shenanigans, the five must survive the night together. All the while, Carmelo (Michael K. Williams) and his anti-government group are brewing a new revolution in the background.
The Purge: Anarchy completely resets its own franchise in such a great fashion. With a more active protagonist (who willingly takes part in the “holiday” rather than sit at home), the premise itself is supercharged. Rather than remain shackled down by the horror genre, Anarchy really takes its unique premise (What would you do if crime were legal?) to heart and becomes a tense, politically charged action fest. And in a weird twist on the events, this active take on the plot makes everything slightly fun. Their survival is no longer whether or not they can hide in closets, it’s whether or not they can run, fight, or dodge long enough. It’s like a placebo effect for the audience. You revel in the lust for violence without all of that “actually doing things” nonsense.
For example, the tone of Anarchy is completely different from the previous film. Realizing its potential, the film has quite a bit of fun characterizing the many wackadoos that would participate. In the strongest compliment I can give a film, The Purge: Anarchy captures the spirit of films like The Warriors and Escape From New York. There’s a singular group trying to get to a safe area, the streets are littered with different gangs with awesome costumes (The Masked Teens, The Bible Thumpers (and the crazy God Warrior), The Mad Max Rednecks, The Hanover Sisters, “Big Daddy”), and it’s all in a world of no consequence. Although the film never fully commits to this camp (leading to weird mashes of tone in certain noticeable areas where it’s unclear if something is meant to be comedic or dramatic), it’s a smart move in the right direction.
With a bigger world, there’s also a better sense of the bigger picture. Countless mentions of with vs. without, a government of folks who’ve lost touch with reality, and plenty of other questions that an annual event like a 12 hour crime spree would bring up. Unfortunately, that bigger picture isn’t fully realized yet. I can’t detail this without getting too spoilery, but the whole thing feels a bit goofy toward the end. While the finale is definitely a fun sequence due to an exchange of power positions, the overall message is muddled because of a lack of follow through. Anarchy is caught in a state of anarchy where all sorts of themes start mashing together and folks end up making weird decisions.
The Purge: Anarchy is at the cusp of being a spectacularly fun romp, but it’s held back by indecisiveness. As it gets further and further away from its horror origin, we can probably expect a good series. But if it keeps trying to be a darker film, then it’s just going to get laughed at for the wrong reasons. A campier tone would’ve easily sold me on Anarchy‘s laughably bad dialogue, heavy handed thematic delivery (which includes the phrase “Rich bitches!”), and for the most part, bad casting (Frank Grillo is the only good actor in this. Please let him do more things, Hollywood).
But why did I wait until the conclusion to mention its problems? Well, it’s because I had fun. Anarchy does what all good sequels do as it elaborates on the ideas of the first film, and has a promising future, but it feels like it’s just a stepping stone to something greater. Like an experiment to see what film crimes this series can get away with. And you know what? That’s perfectly fine.
The Purge: Anarchy has me looking at this series in a new light. I’ll be waiting to Purge next year.