Purge, The: Anarchy (United States/France, 2014)

July 17, 2014
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Purge, The: Anarchy Poster

The success of 2013's The Purge took everyone by surprise, including writer/director James DeMonaco, who was immediately called upon by distributor Universal Studios to pen a sequel. The result is The Purge: Anarchy, a story set in the same world as the first film, albeit a year later. Thankfully, DeMonaco is interested in doing more than regurgitating the home invasion elements that characterized The Purge. This time around, he flips the tables and takes us outside into the dog-eat-dog world of the streets. The result is an action-oriented survival tale, not unlike the kind of movie that Stallone or Schwarzenegger might have made back in the '80s.

The biggest stumbling block remains the premise. The Purge is a social policy that has resulted in great prosperity, but at a cost. Every March 22 for 12 hours, criminal law is suspended. People can do whatever they want, even murder, without fear of legal consequences. It's a time when they can either give freedom to the "inner beast" or hunker down in fortified homes and ride it out. This idea is so outrageous that it makes the suspension of disbelief hurdle high. The allegorical nature of The Purge is clearer in this installment than in the first and the stabs at social commentary and satire are more pointed. In a strange way, I was reminded of Schwarzenegger's The Running Man and there's a sequence in The Purge: Anarchy that seems designed to pay homage to The Hunger Games.

The main character, an unnamed Sergeant played by Frank Grillo (last seen as one of the bad guys in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), is out on Purge night with a specific purpose: to enact revenge upon someone who wronged him. His plans are scuttled, however, when he decides to save four people who have become, through a combination of bad luck and worse decisions, stranded outside. They are a mother, Eva (Carmen Ejogo), and daughter, Cali (Zoe Soul), and a husband, Shane (Zach Gilford), and wife, Liz (Kiele Sanchez). The body of the film follows these five characters as they make their way through treacherous streets and subway tunnels on their way to a safe house. Along the way, they discover that Purgers and victims aren't the only ones in the open - the government has deployed a task force to help thin out the herd and an anti-Purge guerilla movement is active.

The Purge: Anarchy works best when it's proceeding as a straightforward action film. The more deeply it strays into politics, the more obvious the narrative seams become. DeMonaco is less than subtle and his sledgehammer approach threatens to cause blunt-force trauma. A scene involving the auction of people, while effective in a surreal sort of way, doesn't offer much beyond the broad stereotyping of wealthy people as arrogant, ignorant, and callous. Likewise, attempts at character definition are feeble. Fortunately, there's not a lot of that. It only takes a few lines to illuminate The Sergeant's tragic past; beyond that, he's an enigma - a tight-lipped killing machine with a conscience.

The effectiveness of The Purge: Anarchy will depend on the viewer's expectations. It is better than the first film in almost every way but that doesn't mean it's appreciably smarter or has appeal to those who like meat on their action-oriented bones. This is a no-frills adrenaline and testosterone-fueled outing that is as much hampered as enhanced by its political agenda. It remains to be seen whether the premise of The Purge has the capacity to drive a franchise or whether the movie-going public's beguilement by it during the summer of 2013 was an anomaly. The box office for The Purge: Anarchy will determine whether these movies become an annual event.

Purge, The: Anarchy (United States/France, 2014)

Director: James DeMonaco
Cast: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zoe Soul, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez
Screenplay: James DeMonaco
Cinematography: Jacques Jouffret
Music: Nathan Whitehead
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:43
U.S. Release Date: 2014-07-18
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1