Sometimes you wonder what drives a person to see something with the word purge in the title. With an intriguing premise and smart marketing, The Purge arrived in theaters one year ago and had an opening weekend that turned heads. Here was a small movie, comparatively speaking, in a market full of big movies, some of which were 50 times its budget. The movie’s success was surprising and of course Universal Studios wanted to strike while the iron was hot and had writer/director James DeMonaco do a sequel. The result is The Purge: Anarchy, a story set in the same world of the first film, albeit a year later. Rather than repeat the home invasion angle that dominated the original movie, DeMonaco ventures outside to give us more of the nefarious shenanigans that occur around the United States one night every year.
Yet, the change of scenery can’t overcome what is still the franchise’s Achilles heel: its premise. The title of the film is derived from a social policy that saw increased prosperity and a sharp decrease in the lower class. But with every government action there is a cost. Every year during a twelve-hour window criminal law is suspended. Anything you’ve ever simulated in a marathon session of Grand Theft Auto is allowed, even murder, and there are no legal consequences. Knowing that you either fall into the category of needing to release some ruthless aggression or you batten down the hatches and ride out the storm of malevolent decadence.
While the premise is intriguing with its wish fulfillment without recourse fantasy, it is still highly flawed. We’ve yet to learn the significance of why the purge occurs on a specific date every year, beginning on March 21 at 7:00 p.m. and ending March 22 at 7:00 a.m. And with the twelve hours does that account for time zones? Like if it is seven on the east coast does Los Angeles have to wait four hours before its citizens can paint the town red? These are all rhetorical on my part, as if the idea of killing for fun wasn’t outrageous from the start.
What James DeMonaco does get right is refine the story with allusions to the allegorical meaning of The Purge. He also makes an effort to provide satire and social commentary, though nowhere near the level that Ed Neumeier and Paul Verhoeven accomplished on RoboCop and Starship Troopers. (On my own, I discovered there is actually a viral marketing website for the franchise and its fictional New Founding Fathers of America movement at www.newfoundersamerica.org - Would you like to know more?) Late in the movie there is a scene that is reminiscent of The Running Man as if it were a charity auction involving a lot of WASPs with money to burn.
Frank Grillo stars as the nameless “Sergeant” and he’s going to release the beast on Purge night. He’s not looking to have a few thrill kills and go back home; he has a purpose in mind. Someone has wronged him and he’s going out to exact revenge. Driving an armor-plated car with a trunk full of guns Sergeant’s plans are derailed when he comes to the aid of four people who are out in the open on the worst night of the year. They are a mother, Eva (Carmen Ejogo), and daughter, Cali (Zoe Soul), and a husband, Shane (Zach Gilford), and wife, Liz (Kiele Sanchez). Now we follow these five characters as they make their way along streets through alleyways and subway tunnels to a safe house. Crossing paths with Purgers and their victims they discover a bigger threat. The government. It seems that people aren’t purging as much as they did in years past. After years of purging and a noticeable decrease in unemployment and the impoverished, the desire to purge would also likely decrease. So the government has deployed a special task force to help thin out the population, using Gestapo tactics to roust the lower class out of dwellings before machine-gunning them down. To combat the government an anti-Purge guerilla movement is also in play.
Even with all of these angles at play The Purge: Anarchy is at its best when it is moving straightforward. The auction scene and its resolution are too forced in the goal it's trying to achieve. All it does is stereotype the wealthy, giving a broad portrait of what DeMonaco envisions those with money to be: arrogant and unsympathetic. Perhaps the tea party movement of today morphs into the New Founding Fathers of America movement of tomorrow and thus The Purge is born.
If you are looking for defined characters of the five on this night of terrors, look elsewhere - more caricature than character. The movie as a whole would have probably worked better if it was just Grillo on his own. But considering he knew where his target was conflict would have been nil. He’s basically a human terminator; Sergeant is a killing machine that barely speaks. All that was missing was a catchy one-liner.
The Purge: Anarchy is far from great entertainment, but it is a better sequel. Whether or not that means much will depend on the viewer. Frank Grillo is game but the rest of the characters are worthless. With the rise of a resistance movement it hints that there is more to be derived of the political agenda behind The Purge. Frankly, I don’t think the premise can sustain an annual franchise. The turnaround time looks to only satiate audiences craving blood and studios craving green.