“It’s my right! Granted to me! By the new Founding Fathers!”
When the crazies are able to play, you best stay away. Why are they able to play? A little event known as The Purge. The next installment of this franchise goes back to Los Angeles a few moments before the yearly American tradition, in which all crime—including murder—is legal for 12 continuous hours, commenced by the sirens at 7pm. Despite the outright inhumanity and bloodshed it champions, the new Founding Fathers-created Purge has proven to be a necessary and beneficial event, as it has shown to stabilize the economy and reduce poverty rates.
This year’s annual event is personal for police sergeant Leo (Frank Grillo). One year ago, Leo suffered one of the worst experiences a parent could have, and he has tagged this night for vengeance. On the other side of town, young lovebirds Shane and Liz (Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez) are looking to get home before sundown, until they are forced to venture out in the purge-invested streets when their car breaks down. Lastly, mother and daughter Eva & Cali (Carmen Ejogo, Zoe Soul) are safely tucked away in their apartment, but are forcibly removed from their safe haven by a shady group. Improbably, all five of these people come together and must focus on one objective: Survive the night.
2013’s The Purge was a film with a lot of potential, armed with an intriguing premise and relative star power in Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey. Unfortunately, that potential went untapped in many areas, mainly due to terrible characters/pitiful acting from all involved (save Headey, Hawke, and the main baddie), and a misstep in marketing that made the film look like a predominant horror, but was actually more of a science fiction thriller with slight horror tinges. Still, it made a ton of money off a 3 million budget, and a sequel was immediately greenlit. So, does The Purge: Anarchy rewrite all of the fails of the first? Not exactly, but it is much better in comparison.
The same premise found in the original is found here, and to some, there is no accepting the “fact” that this mayhem somehow makes the world a better place. At this point in time, this fact is what the franchise is built upon, and if you are unable to suspend disbelief, save your time and watch something else. Part of the reason why the first failed, in my opinion, had nothing to do with the premise. Instead, the failure was a direct result of funneling its juicy mythology into nothing more than a home invasion setting. Luckily, Anarchy avoids this mistake by taking to the streets.
With the change to an outdoor setting, we finally get a feel as to how the Purge may play out for those unlucky enough to find shelter. Immediately, this makes the event more intriguing and more frightful, because it is ever-changing, compared to a static setting. The movie is definitely not a horror, but more tension is present here as opposed to the first, simply due to the shift in surroundings. This truly feels like an unique event.
The story at the core of The Purge: Anarchy is one of survival in the face of an extremely undesirable situation, but there are a few societal issues it touches upon, some more heavy handed than others. Class warfare, government secrecy, nonviolence, vigilantism, and more are clearly referenced here. It can get tired in points, only because it has been seen before, but it isn’t a huge deterrent to the film. But, there are some missed opportunities within the story that could have solidified this as a compelling piece of science fiction thriller.
There is a huge resistance, led by a man named Carmelo (Michael K. Williams), who evokes some of Malcolm X mixed with a bit of Jim Jones. He and his organization initially look to be a sizable part of the happenings in the film, but end up just coming and going, and it is a damn shame. What is also sort of disappointing is the (slight SPOILERS) lack of anarchy. For one night, The Purge would appear to “level” the playing field, so to speak. Instead, it is more of the same, which is probably the point the movie is trying to make, but I can’t help but wish that it went another direction (END SPOILERS).
Though the movie follows five characters, the singular one that makes the movie worth viewing is Frank Grillo’s. Leo is a man that is driven by revenge, and it would have been really easy to make him an unlikable character with no redeeming qualities. Thankfully, Grillo plays the character essentially from a chaotic good alignment, and unequivocally nails the uneasiness his character has during the Purge, while simultaneously realizing that the only path to vengeance is dependent on eliminating his target. Additionally, he brings a real physicality and grit to the role that meshes perfectly with the urban locale. There have been better performances this year in cinema, but Grillo’s deserves recognition.
The rest of the cast? Well, they are more of a mixed bag, ranging from OK to subpar. Generally, the females fall in the former category, not truly able to add any substance of note aside from being scared or snapping back verbally. They are not bad performances, but not ones that you will remember either. One that will be remembered for all of the wrong reasons is the man who plays Shane (Zach Gilford). Shane for the bulk of the movie comes off as an aloof jerk and smartass with no real motivation as to why. Definitely a misstep by the writer, but the actor does himself no favors as well. The movie does attempt to redeem his character, but it is too little too late.
Anarchy is primarily written and directed once again by James DeMonaco, who manages to effectively flesh out the world and the Purge itself. Everything is just more tighter in this installment, from pacing to back story. Not to be forgotten about are the surprisingly solid action set pieces. Whether hand to hand or firearm based, the scenes are filmed with great precision and sound just like they should, all while not being overly gratuitous.
Its premise may always be cooler than its end result, but it is clear that The Purge: Anarchy really is a step above its predecessor. mainly because it finally carves out its own identity. So enjoy your right to purge, it’s more memorable this time around.
Photo credits go to joblo.com, fansided.com ,& turntherightcorner.com.
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