The Purge: Anarchy

Posted by Joel Copling on June 26, 2014

(WARNING: This review contains spoilers in the opening paragraph below. If you plan to see the movie, do so before reading this review.)

There is a scene somewhere in the middle of "The Purge: Anarchy" that highlights what the sequel does far better than its 2013 predecessor. In it, our quintet of protagonists has barricaded itself in the apartment of Eva's (Carmen Ejogo) work friend Tanya (Justina Machado), who lives with her family. All of her family are anti-Purge, yet the tension is palpable. Tanya's sister is on edge for reasons that are not quite clear, until she takes a gun from a nearby table and shoots Tanya dead. She keeps shooting for a few seconds, too, and when we hear the motivation, we're on the sister's side. This is what the Annual Purge, a 12-hour "cleanse" during which people may gallivant and wrong-do to their heart's desire, is all about. Not only is the tension palpable in this sequence; so is the fully emotional context of the alternate universe created by writer/director James DeMonaco.

It wasn't so in the first film, which set up the thematic foundation for these rules and ideals but failed to follow through with them. Instead, it transferred them to a mindless, generic stalk-and-slash picture set within a single house whose owners and children must avoid an external threat. It was neither creative nor ambitious, especially in the face of such a sinister premise. Indeed, its strongest moments were its final ones, which actually engaged a complex exploration of that premise, though too little and too late. Here, then, is the sequel, which opens up the universe to the outside world (the perfect stomping ground for such a premise) and explores those themes to a sometimes disturbing degree--and not just within the aforementioned sequence, either.

The human collateral here begins with "Sergeant" (Frank Grillo), who arms himself and his car to the teeth before setting out on the streets, it seems, to purge. Eva and her daughter Cali (an excellent Zoe Soul), whose father/grandfather (John Beasley) has announced that he's dying and martyrs himself to a rich family who purge by way of prearranged payment (Eva desperately needs the money, after all), must escape their shabby apartment complex when armed, dangerous men with high-caliber weapons infiltrate it and try to abduct them. Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) are a couple in the midst of separating, whose car breaks down only minutes from commencement of the Annual Purge. It's needless to say that they come together through contrived but desperate circumstances. Solid acting from all five of them is what connects us to their plight, though, rather than DeMonaco's broadly written characterizations (easily forgivable in this instance).

The real star of "The Purge: Anarchy" is the Annual Purge itself, and thank the heavens DeMonaco rarely skimps on risk-taking when it comes to the rules and inherent thematic decadence of this premise. The third act might be a bit on-the-nose in its straightforward examination of a deteriorating government and the people it is targeting, the premise may still require a bit of bravery to really tackle all avenues of crime (here and in the first film, more or less restricted or broadly defined as "murder"), but for the first time in what seems to be a burgeoning franchise, the Annual Purge is something to be feared and, in the most sinister way, respected as more than a mere plot device.

Film Information

Frank Grillo (Sergeant), Carmen Ejogo (Eva), Zach Gilford (Shane), Kiele Sanchez (Liz), Zoe Soul (Cali), Justina Machado (Tanya), John Beasley (Papa).

Directed and written by James DeMonaco.

Rated R (disturbing violence, language).

104 minutes.

Released on July 18, 2014.