Written and directed by James DeMonaco, who wrote and directed the first film, The Purge: Anarchy takes the concept that was born in the 2012 Ethan Hawke fronted movie and turns it on its head, changing its style and putting us in the thick of the action, on the streets of a city in the midst of the annual purge.
The Purge, as a concept, is that once a year, the United States government sanctions one night in which all crime is legal, most weapons are allowed, and people can “cleanse” themselves of feelings of anger, hatred and other negative stuff. In other words, you or I could, in this universe, go to the home of our worst enemy, or even a random stranger, strangle them with a mobile phone charger and piss on their dead feet, and we’d walk away, free and remitted of any punishment. Yikes.
The first film mostly stuck to the home of the Sandin family as they battled intruders while attempting to survive the night, but this time there is a big dark city of Los Angeles as the playground for those that are attempting to “cleanse” themselves and legally commit crime for a few hours. There are more characters this time, more enemies, and a deeper storyline. There is also, obviously, a much bigger area for the characters to hide in, and get found in for that matter. The plot is the same as the first in many ways, we have a group of people who are trying to survive the purge that they don’t want to take part in. We have a mother and daughter on the run from soldier-looking assassins who raided their apartment, we have a wife and husband going through a rocky patch whose car breaks down in the middle of the city and are on the run from a gang of weapon wielding masked men, and we have our lead character, a guy who we meet as he attempts to join in the purge in some way but ends up meeting our other characters and helps them find safety while still trying to get to his required target. There is also a side story involving a group of people rebelling against the government and the annual purge.
Frank Grillo (End of Watch) is Sergeant, the central character in the film, and he’s the best written one too. He has more to him than many of the other people here, and his grey area keeps you guessing until the final moments which kept him, and the film, interesting. The characters all have personality and are developed enough that we care a bit about them, but there isn’t enough time to deeply develop each of them, so we don’t feel like we truly know any of them as the final credits roll.
This film, like the first, is very up and down. There is plenty to like here, but there are gaping holes in the story and even, at times, unanswered questions that shouldn’t have been left that way. I liked the setting and felt like it brought a feeling of unpredictability and grittiness to the experience. You don’t know who is hiding in the shadows, in cars, behind dumpsters, on rooftops, in windows or down each street or alleyway, and that provides a feeling of tension that is different to the original film. The masked criminals who run the streets with guns and knives are faceless and emotionless, which is fine sometimes, but I also feel like the masked thing is becoming tired, and if it is legal to purge each year, why would people wear masks? Why would people who are proud of the purge concept be hiding their faces? I think director DeMonaco included the mask element as a “creepy” thing, a way to bring in the horror crowd, but it is becoming passé already. The scenes involving the rich and upper class unmasked and well-dressed people who were hunting the poor, those scenes were the best in the entire film. Unmasked, there is something much more disturbing and egomaniacal about the people committing the acts. The holes in the plot and unanswered questions were irritating to me. We leave a character who we have spent the entire film with, and we don’t see them again, nor do we find out what came of them. Things like this, and other things I won’t mention in fear of spoiling things for you, dear reader, cause the film to fall into a zone of “passable” rather than “pretty good”.
A concept that is excellent yet hasn’t been reached so far, it is inevitable that a third film will see the light of day, and in my view it is likely that more substandard writing and realisation of a theme will be realised. It’s a shame, the potential for a film based on this idea could be an intense, frightening and politically charged thriller that would leave fans salivating at the thought of a follow-up.
Not a bad film, then, The Purge: Anarchy is watchable. It entertains and there are some moments in which you can see that there are some good ideas going on, but the disorganised and clumsy writing and the lack of interesting villains makes it feel mediocre and disappointing. Not the best, but not the worst either.