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Review: The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

Directed by: James DeMonaco

Premise: A sequel to the 2013 film. In the future, America is a land of peace and prosperity but one night a year all crime, including murder, is legal. A group of strangers who have no interest in purging find themselves flung together and on the run from a group of people trying to kill them.

What Works: The Purge series has a great concept and the films work the best when the filmmakers play on that central idea. The first Purge movie was a home invasion story but the ending of that film did not lead to a sequel and so the filmmakers have remained within the story world while focusing on an entirely new cast of characters. The Purge: Anarchy opens a few hours before the annual event and it follows several people’s situations: a well-armed single man who intends to execute the person who killed his son, a mother and daughter whose apartment complex is raided by gunmen, and a couple whose car breaks down in the middle of the city. Circumstances fling these strangers together and they attempt to survive the night. The decision to open up the scope of the sequel was a smart one; where the first Purge was essentially intimate, the second installment is a much broader movie, similar to pictures like The Warriors and Escape from New York, as this group must travel across urban terrain while being pursued by hostile groups. One key element of The Purge concept that is seized upon in the sequel is its satirical and metaphorical possibilities. The premise of The Purge movies is a lightly disguised economic metaphor. In the first movie this was mostly understated but it was there. The sequel addresses the economic subtext much more directly and many of the highlights of The Purge: Anarchy occur when the filmmakers play up the economic angle.

What Doesn’t: The Purge: Anarchy plays best when it addresses economic issues but the filmmakers don’t go far enough. Clearly they want this movie to work as a social commentary in the mode of titles like American Psycho and A Clockwork Orange but something that made both of those movies work was their absurd style. The filmmakers of The Purge: Anarchy are at least entertaining the notion of satire and that requires them to take a step past the threshold of credulity and into surrealism. This movie never quite makes it there. The filmmakers keep everything reasonably scaled and the tone never tips into violent insanity. Although some critics bemoan the violent nature of movies these days, The Purge films offer an appropriate context to indulge the excessive gore of the torture films that were so popular a decade ago because here that violence takes on secondary and tertiary meanings. The misplaced restraint of The Purge and its shortcomings as a social satire are most apparent by comparing the movie to Eli Roth’s Hostel films, especially the underappreciated Hostel: Part II. That movie fully embraced the economic metaphor and used business forces to fuel the plot. By comparison, The Purge: Anarchy is too tame and plays less like a horror film and more like an action title. The movie is also flawed in its basic storytelling. The characters of this film aren’t very interesting and no one really grows or comes to a new understanding about themselves or this society. Frank Grillo plays the leader of the survivors but he basically does everything for them. His companions don’t question their pacifism nor are they called to do anything except huddle behind Grillo’s character. The movie also introduces an underground revolutionary group that is fighting against the government and against the Purge. This movement is led by a charismatic leader who is clearly modeled upon Malcom X but the filmmakers don’t put him to any good use.

Bottom Line: The Purge: Anarchy does not live up to the potential of its premise and it suffers from a lot of fundamental story problems. The movie is acceptable as an action picture with a social edge to it but most of what’s here has been done before and done better in other movies.

Episode: #501 (July 27, 2014)