I found The Purge to be one of the most annoyingly disappointing films of 2013. While the concept is something that one could poke holes into, it was still an idea that had a lot of potential, and not just for entertainment value, but in terms of social commentary and satire. There is so much a filmmaker could explore with this idea; instead what we got was a typical home invasion movie, and not a good one at that. All the interesting ideas fell to the background and felt more like an excuse to not call the police. It had annoying characters constantly making terrible decisions, soft and underwhelming attempts at social commentary, and a general unsatisfying feeling of “that’s it?!” once the film was over. However, the film made money and a sequel was announced. Writer/director James DeMonaco is given another shot, so there is a chance that the new one will improve.
The Purge: Anarchy follows five characters during the annual Purge. There is a young couple Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) whose car was tinkered with, leaving them stranded and hunted by a group of Purgers. Then there is Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter, Cali (Zoe Soul), whose apartment building was raided by a heavily armed paramilitary group. They were about to be taken by them until they were saved by Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), who does so reluctantly because he is on a personal mission. One thing leads to another and all five of the characters end up sticking together and with the help of Leo and his large arsenal of weapons, the group tries to survive the night.
Fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice, then shame on me. Fortunately, there will be no shaming on anyone’s part because The Purge: Anarchy is surprisingly good and highly entertaining. It abandons all pretense of being a horror film like the previous film, and goes full on Aliens by being more of an action-thriller. It’s like James DeMonaco has listened to the complaints people had with the first film and tried to improve in every way he can, and he does. The best thing about the film that worked for me was how reminiscent it was of gritty 80’s genre flicks. It plays out like if John Carpenter made a Punisher movie by way of a Grand Theft Auto free roam playthrough. Throw in a little bit of an 80’s Cannon Group production like Exterminator 2 or Death Wish 3, and you basically have The Purge: Anarchy.
Unlike the first Purge, I actually cared about the characters in this film. Granted it was more with Leo than the others, but the other characters actually weren’t as annoying as they were in the previous installment. Most of it is probably due to performances being more consistently solid across the board without any weak links among the cast. The standout is Frank Grillo, who has been long overdue for a leading role in a big movie, and he absolutely nails it. Carmen Ejogo does a good job at making you feel sympathetic to her character and her situation. Zoe Soul could have easily fallen in the same trap as the son from the first Purge, but her performance comes off as very genuine and she has good chemistry with Frank Grillo, who she has some really fun back-and-forth with. Even Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez work well as the young couple. On paper, there are certain lines and moments that could test a less tolerant viewer, but the performances managed to make it work for me.
It was also a wise decision to take all the action outside because it gives a lot of opportunities to explore some of the insanity that can happen during the Purge, and while the film does throw a lot at you, it never feels bloated. The social commentary in the film can basically be summed up as an exploration of modern class warfare, it’s nothing innovative or unique, but it’s more upfront and expressive about its ideas than it was in the first film. It moves along at a good pace, has some really fun set pieces, and it enthusiastically embraces the utter insanity of the idea, making the film what The Road Warrior was to the first Mad Max (except, you know, the first Mad Max was already great).
The film isn’t without its problems though. There are some lines of dialogue that come off as a bit awkward, a couple moments where characters make some questionable decisions and whenever a fistfight occurs, the camera begins shaking really hard. There’s also a subplot involving a revolutionary figure, Carmelo (Michael K. Williams), that doesn’t have a proper resolution and didn’t feel that necessary in the grand scheme of things, unless DeMonaco has something big planned for the inevitable third installment. Any other problems I may have had or others might have are ultimately just taste issues.
The Purge: Anarchy is dark, bleak, violent, trashy, angry and nihilistic as hell, so it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who are up for over an hour and a half of indulgent ultraviolence with a side of social commentary, this might be up your alley. It’s pretty much the closest you’ll find to a modern day exploitation film that doesn’t stylistically and aesthetically homage older films. If you’re someone who can’t get over the concept of the Purge (and granted it is a really dumb idea, especially given how serious the films are taking it), then you have no business here, as it doesn’t really transcend its trashy and exploitative nature. Even if you didn’t like the first one, I suggest you give this one a chance. It may not be my ideal Purge movie, but for what it is, it was an immensely entertaining ride. James DeMonaco still has a ways to go if he wants to continue this franchise, but if he continues this route improving with each film, then consider me excited for the third one.
Side Note: I commented earlier about how despite my enjoyment of the film, it still isn’t my ideal Purge movie. What I would like to see out of a Purge movie is to have more of a sense of humor. I figure having a sense of humor will make the concept easier to swallow for the people who can’t enjoy it simply because of the premise. It would be more satirical like the works of Paul Verhoeven. I think making it an anthology film would also be an interesting way to explore the idea. For example, you could have one segment that’s a revenge thriller, another that’s like a home invasion story, one involving someone attempting to loot a store and another segment that has a farmer fending off his barn from people trying to have their way with his animals. It may not be much, but at least it’s something and doesn’t reduce the Purge to being just a night where people just murder…and that’s it. Maybe next time.