Is two films enough to constitute The Purge as a franchise? Because if so, they might have set a record for fastest reboot in the history of cinema.
Whether the producers of The Purge: Anarchy meant for the film to be a sequel or a redoing of their first film, one thing is for certain: this is what the first film was supposed to be. The Purge: Anarchy is more keenly aware of its concept, and it uses that knowledge to its advantage in being an effective, surprising entry that moves past the clichés of modern cinema.
The premise remains similar to the The Purge of yesteryear. It has come to that one night out of the year that is responsible for practically ushering in a new golden age of America devoid of crime, poverty, and unemployment. The New Founding Father have taken care to destroy traditional America by creating one night for you to have fun with your guns and knives and fires.
In the first film, that’s pretty much all you had to know before it went into full-on home invasion movie mode.
Not so the second time around.
Three groups of people come together to get out of the annual Purge alive: a mother, Eva, and her daughter who refuse to take part and hole up in their home; a couple whose relationship is on the rocks who get stranded outside at the most inconvenient time of the year; and the star of the film, a quiet, threatening stranger who is taking part in this year’s purging, for reasons we don’t yet know. But he does have a conscious. That much we do know as he, despite his best intentions, chooses to save the would-be victims who shouldn’t last five minutes on these streets.
From there on out, it’s a fight to survive the remaining hours of this hell of a night.
Director James DeMonaco, who also wrote the film, does a surprisingly excellent job at conveying the different ways the annual Purge is viewed. There are those who know it is their right to let free their aggression, and there are those, such as Eva and her daughter, who believe it doesn’t truly solve anything. It is the new government’s salvation, and a revolutionary’s nemesis.
As the night gets underway, there is an abundance of shots of the chaos and, forgive me, anarchy of the event which convey it’s macabre and no-one-is-safe tones. Buses aflame careening down streets. Victims being dropped from buildings in alleyways. Hillbillies drive go-karts with flamethrowers and quiet ones stalk the streets with machetes. The poor hide for their lives in the walls of the city as small armies of soldiers in semis are out to kidnap the city folk for their employer to purge. Anti-government groups declaring the Purge as being corrupt make their message and their threats known on screens around downtown LA. The full-scale terror is put out on display, and it is a spectacle.
But those aren’t even the most terrifying moments of the film.
Just when you think The Purge: Anarchy is going to succumb to clichés of escaping madmen with weapons and no remorse, DeMonaco throws a curveball, or a few. Where The Purge: Anarchy exceeds the most is when things are seemingly normal, and our characters are safe. The parts of the movie where our group is with perfectly sane characters turn out to be exactly the opposite. We see that truly no one is safe from the temptations of purging, of “letting the beast out”, especially as we see our anti-hero as a man on a mission to get his revenge.
The film’s third act is undoubtedly its high point, as DeMonaco shows how the annual purging affects all classes of society, and our group is caught in a modern version of The Most Dangerous Game. At this point the movie fully realizes what is and what it can be, as bigger motives for purging are introduced. It’s bold, it’s effective, and it allows the film to breathe fresh air into a plot we thought at one point to be predictable. There are a number of twists and turns just in the film’s closing minutes which ultimately lead to a satisfying conclusion.
The Purge: Anarchy is less of a horror film and more of an action thriller, which, in all actuality, fits the concept better than the tones its predecessor tried to convey.
The jump-scares that characterize modern horror are few and far in between, but that’s okay because there is always tension lingering over the group as they make their way through the streets, keeping tabs on who is behind them, ahead of them, and above them. You never know when some maniac in a mask is going to jump out or a group on motorcycles make their way down the road to you. Although the movie’s twisted, every-day version of Rambo, played superbly by Frank Grillo (Collision, End of Watch) seeks his own redemption, you begin to see the doubt in his eyes as he helps the group further into the night. His is a fascinating character who has to grapple between what is right and what he wants.
The other characters are tough to root for, mostly through them being stock characters; predictable and annoying at times, not really growing through the course of the film. It’s tough to care for their stories when our anti-hero’s is an enticing mystery.
And, like all modern actioneers and thrillers, the logic of The Purge: Anarchy is laughable at times. Either some of the individuals in the film are really really really bad shots, or the characters are invincible and bullets fly right through them.
But that’s a minor complaint considering modern entries in the genre. It certainly doesn’t detract from the experience as a whole, as we see the annual Purge played out on a full scale.
That’s the spirit of the film, and what sets it apart. It isn’t afraid to fully realize its vision. Instead of the audience daring the movie to scare us, as most modern horror entries unfortunately succumb to, The Purge: Anarchy dares us to be frightened by the notion that this could happen, and we might become different people when the annual Purge comes around.
In a Nutshell
Held back slightly by a stock plot for most of the film, The Purge: Anarchy in its final act morphs into the film the first one should have been, and we are left leaving the theater all the more shaken because of it.
7.5/10 or Are we sure this isn’t a franchise reboot?