Review: The Purge – Anarchy (2014)

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Director: James DeMonaco
Screenwriter: James DeMonaco
Cast: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoe Soul, Michael K. Williams, Justina Machado & John Beasley
Runtime: 103 min // Certificate: 15


The general consensus seems to be that while The Purge: Anarchy is still a deeply flawed film, it is a little bit better than its predecessor. Though this strikes me as the very definition of “damning with faint praise”, I guess I’m inclined to agree for the simple reason that we at least get to see the “Purge” in action this time, rather than simply watching a glorified home-invasion movie. That, however, is about as far as my praise goes, for while Anarchy is a small step in the right direction, it’s still a fair old distance away from being anything close to a decent horror film, let alone a decent action-thriller, which is what James DeMonaco – the film’s writer-director – seems to have been aiming for this time around.

Set one year after the events of the previous film, it’s all business as usual as far as the “Purge” is concerned. To recap, in the not-too-distant future America’s “New Founding Fathers” – also known as the Republican Party – have written into law the existence of a single March night in which all crime (including murder, as the announcements constantly remind us) is legal, in order to allow people to vent their anger and frustration without fear of incarceration. For most people, Purge Night involves battening down the hatches, turning out the lights and hoping nobody kicks your door down and blows your face off with a shotgun. For others, however, Purge Night offers the chance to fulfil their sickest fantasies.

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Now, on the one hand The Purge: Anarchy is a clear improvement on its predecessor because it takes the action outdoors. We get to see a collection of horror clichés running from street to street in a desperate bid to survive the night, led by Frank Grillo (Zero Dark Thirty) doing his best Punisher impression, while all around them society’s most depraved individuals “unleash the beast” on one another. The inherent fun factor in watching an entire city (which acts as a microcosm for the country) throw caution to the wind and go feral is present for about 20 minutes or so, which is more than can be said about the previous film, and I always appreciate any attempt to recapture the aesthetic of a classic exploitation film, so fair play to it on that count.

Alas, as with the first film, the gulf between the fanciful concept and James DeMonaco’s staid execution remains insurmountable. The social commentary on offer is mind-numbingly obtuse, not to mention inconsistent, and so there’s only so much you can take before it all becomes laughable. At this point, DeMonaco had two options. He could either plough on in some vain attempt to convince people that his film had some deep, meaningful message about wealth inequality and elitism, or he could just crank the craziness up to eleven and let nature take its course. Unfortunately he plumps for the former, resulting in a film that tries – and categorically fails – to convince the audience that its premise is even remotely plausible, instead of just having fun with it.

To give you an idea of what I mean, there’s a scene about halfway through the film in which some seriously sociopathic shit goes down at a house party. It’s hilarious, albeit absurdly so, and it is a great example of how the concept could’ve been used to satirise humanity at its most unhinged. More ludicrous stuff like that wouldn’t have gone amiss, if only to prevent the film from slipping into crude political diatribes that wouldn’t even cut the mustard at an “Occupy” rally. Alas, that’s the only memorable sequence in the entire film, and even that suffers from stodgy writing and atrocious acting.

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That The Purge: Anarchy takes itself so seriously is its greatest flaw, because there’s the potential for a genuinely decent B-movie beneath all the nonsense. Frank Grillo is a strangely engaging lead, and his character’s backstory is the only one is even passably interesting, and the concept has a lot of potential. Just like with The Purge however, all of these basic strengths are outmatched by a witless screenplay and lazy direction, both of which are the sole fault of Mr DeMonaco. If this series does continue, and if the packed screening I went to is any indication then it most definitely will, then the first move has to be to give DeMonaco his marching orders, because it’s clear he simply doesn’t know what he’s doing. Then, and only then, will The Purge franchise have any real chance at critical success.

Also, on a final note, why isn’t the time difference issue ever addressed? Like, seriously, does Purge Night start at 7pm everywhere, or does it start at 8pm in Ohio and 10pm in California or what? This is important people! Is it like Election Day, where the polls close “earlier” in New York than they do in Alaska? What’s the system here! Does anyone know? Does James DeMonaco even know…? Though to be honest, the fact I’ve spent more time pondering that dilemma than I have the political message of the film should tell you all you need to know about how crap it is.