James DeMonaco’s The Purge was perhaps the biggest surprise hit in 2013 making some $90 million at the box office, however, for all that commercial success, the film inspired ire in a lot of theatergoers who felt that it was more a home invasion movie and much less and film about the vastly interesting premise at its core––for the uninitiated, purge night, a U.S. government sanctioned holiday, makes all crime, including murder, legal for 12 hours. Take a minute to let the implications and possibilities that come with that premise sink in and it becomes easy to understand why audiences were disappointed that virtually the whole of the first film took place in a single home, (though admittedly, much more location-wise on a $3 million budget would have been tough). Well, they weren’t alone. DeMonaco has publicly said that he heard and understood those responses and recalled personally feeling that the film was too “claustrophobic.” After watching The Purge: Anarchy, which hits theaters everywhere on July 18, it should become clear to viewers that DeMonaco took great pains to avoid that same issue in his follow-up to the first film.
In terms of execution of concept, The Purge: Anarchy grows by leaps and bounds over its predecessor. The film follows a group of five people, all trying to survive purge night in downtown LA: a mother and daughter (Carmen Ejogo, Zoë Soul) forced to flee their home, a couple who become stranded when their car breaks down (Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez) and a lone man out for revenge (Frank Grillo). Though the film begins with three separate storylines to introduce these characters, purge night happenstance quickly brings them together. Recognizing their luck in stumbling upon a guy who knows how to kick some serious a** and doesn’t want to kill them, the other four are quite keen to stick with the mysterious guy who spares them from ending up super dead, even if he isn’t too thrilled about gaining them as companions.
The group’s arduous trek through the city in search of a safe haven is the perfect device to show off the scope of the purge and show off a variety of situations that can arise as a result, it is also, at turns, a bit reminiscent of The Warriors––no matter where our heroes go baddies seem to find them and clearly want them to come out and play. Nowhere is this more gloriously nodded at (whether intentional or not) than when the ragtag group of survivors takes to the subway for a quick getaway, and only ends up in more trouble.
This time out, the audience is also treated to a scope of how the purge is impacting the country at large. A clandestine outfit with military efficiency and a veritable army is terrorizing the streets, even as an anti-New Founding Fathers of America (a.k.a. the government that instituted the purge) is imploring the poor to rise up against the wealthy and the NFFA. The purge, he asserts, is the way the rich are choosing to control the population, keep the poor down and keep all the wealth for themselves, (and that’s a pretty timely topic considering the current conversations surrounding the 99% and the one-percenters).
The events of The Purge: Anarchy grow increasingly far-fetched as the film progresses as is the case in most horror flicks, but DeMonaco never fails to keep things interesting as he sends his characters down one path and another exploring the dark realities of purge night. Clocking in at 103 minutes, it’s a quick and nasty showcase of just how entertaining and multi-faceted this premise can be when DeMonaco is allowed to stretch his legs.
With The Purge: Anarchy DeMonaco hasn’t yet managed to elevate his work beyond a genre film, but he has delivered a horror movie that is a hoot to watch (for genre fans at least), and manages the rare feat of improving upon the original. Here’s hoping he can continue that trend should the franchise earn another installment.