When The Purge hit theaters last year it wasn't immediately identifiable as a Blumhouse production. There weren't any demonic spirits or evil poltergeists like in their small-budget smashes like Paranormal Activity and Insidious. But the film's ingenious, deviously brilliant premise and hefty profit margin were all the clues one needed to know the horror kings could have their next great franchise, but only if The Purge: Anarchy had the balls to confront its combative political themes head on. Fortunately for us, it does.
They say politics is a bloodsport and The Purge: Anarchy takes that idea to a whole new level of extreme. Limiting itself to a home invasion thriller kept writer/director James DeMonaco in check and away from the socio-political themes merely hinted at. But now he goes full rabble-rouser in a film that indulges in the excesses of violence while serving as an allegory for today's destructive economic climate. The basic premise is the same only now we finally get to see it played out in all its terrible glory. Thanks to a hyper-conservative government led by the New Founders of America, a single night of the year known as the Annual Purge allows for people to commit wanton acts of violence without fear of legal retribution. Basically, murder is legal and on that night roving packs of masked, armed thugs wander the streets looking for victims. The result is lower unemployment, lower crime rate....oh, and fewer of those worthless poor people who can't afford top notch security systems to protect themselves. Surely that couldn't be the point of all this, right? To wipe out the lower-class citizens to favor the wealthy?
In what quickly begins to resemble a new age version of The Running Man, we follow the enigmatic and vengeful Sergeant (Frank Grillo) as he dares to head out into the streets during the Purge. So right away you know he's a badass to brave that kind of madness, but his quest for revenge is sidetracked by saving waitress Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter Cali (Zoe Soul) after they are kidnapped by mysterious government agents. They've just seen their terminally ill father sacrifice himself to a wealthy family for a large sum of money, proving that the rich really do like to get their hands dirty....but only when it's to take advantage of the less fortunate. Also getting in his way are Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), a couple on the verge of separating who get stuck on the side of the road with nowhere else to go. The five must navigate the city streets and survive until the Purge ends in the morning, avoiding masked goons with enough firepower to take over a small country.
But DeMonaco throws more than just run 'n gun thrills into the mix, spinning a couple of compelling mysteries that pay dividends in the long run. The real cause for Sergeant's actions are left in shadow and color his every decision, especially when his companions start to become too much of a distraction. He's constantly at odds with the feisty Cali, who believes in the fiery rhetoric of an anti-Purge rebel group (led by Michael K. Williams) that resembles a faction of the Black Panther Party. While there are plenty of bullet-riddled bodies the physical violence is secondary to the nastiness of a system where the wealthy auction off poor people to be hunted down like prey. But DeMonaco, recognizing the parallels to the vast wealth disparity in our country today, makes it clear that it need not be this way, putting the weapons to fight back in the hands of the downtrodden. In one pertinent image, a wealthy white collar criminal is murdered and strung up as a warning to the upper class to watch their asses. As the lily-white power players and redneck gun nuts are made to look like dangerous clowns, DeMonaco perhaps goes a little overboard with his anti-establishment, anti-gun rhetoric. But the power of the message and the seamless way it is woven into an effectively rugged survival genre can't be ignored. Nor can it be understated just how much it means to have a genuine tough guy like Grillo in the lead role. He's been great in other movies before (like Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and it's about time he had a chance to shine on his own.
The Purge: Anarchy draws you in with promises of gore but hooks you with surprisingly insightful, uniquely American political activism.