Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: James DeMonaco
Writer: James DeMonaco
Producer: Jason Blum, Sebastien K. Lemercier, Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller
Stars: Frank Grillo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Carmen Ejogo, Zoe Soul, Michael K. Williams, Justina Machado
Five strangers caught on the street during the annual Purge are forced to band together to survive the night.
Take even a brief look at any message boards, blogs, or negative reviews of “The Purge” (review here) and you are liable to find less commentary on the movie itself, and more uproar about the perceived implausibility of its premise. Now add contextual perspective to that criticism. Is twelve hours of legalized crime one night out of the year any more of a ridiculous diving board for a fictional movie than killing everyone who reaches the age of thirty, government-sponsored cannibalism, or an Earth overtaken by intelligent apes?
The dystopian fantasy future of “The Purge” is no more “out there” of an idea than “Logan’s Run,” “Soylent Green,” “Planet of the Apes,” or any number of 1970’s genre films that went on to be considered modern classics. Either filmgoers of that era had more open imaginations to see the intent beneath the themes, or the social media age of anonymous online anger dooms 21st century movies to burial beneath manufactured outrage.
As sequels go, “The Purge: Anarchy” makes it simple to say that if suspending disbelief was an insurmountable challenge the first time around, the second trip inside that world won’t be any easier. But if action-horror framed by a chill-inducing peek under the hood of human behavior’s dark side makes your skin crawl, “Anarchy” delivers even more of what made its predecessor a haunting thriller.
“The Purge: Anarchy” is a logical extension of what is an arguably illogical vision of 2023 America. Here, the New Founding Fathers have quelled unwashed masses by granting the public half a day each year to indulge in animalistic criminal behavior. By comparison, “The Purge” was a narrowly concentrated home invasion horror with its lens centered squarely on one house, one family, and one story. “Anarchy” expands that universe by taking the Purge onto the streets for a more open world look at the widespread effects of the concept.
“Anarchy” opens with three threads. Liz and Shane are a troubled young couple struggling with marital woes whose car has an untimely inner city breakdown shortly before the annual bloodbath commences. Eva and Cali are a working class mother and daughter already fighting to get by in a daily life that is hectic enough without government-sanctioned rape and gunfire. And Frank Grillo plays a grizzled mystery man using the ghoulish holiday to satisfy a personal vendetta Charles Bronson-style.
Contrived stereotypes that these characters might be, this familiar ring to their personalities is what gives them their relatable appeal. As with the first film, “The Purge: Anarchy” is less concerned about being brilliant in the details, and more focused on meaningful broad strokes of the environment and the fiction. These three primary storylines soon merge for what essentially amounts to a partial remake of “Escape from New York” as the quintet of average citizens fights their way through a warzone while trying to survive the night.
Where “The Purge” had the feel of a straight good guys versus bad guys siege movie, “Anarchy” delves further into the grey areas surrounding the idea. Personal ideologies and seesawing allegiances introduce more mystery about everyone’s purpose, which paints characters in colors that are neither strictly black nor strictly white.
“Anarchy” also broadens its vision of the infamous event itself. Using Purge Night almost solely as an excuse for legalized murder was more or less the singular focus of the first film. With the sequel, the notion of savagery used for cleansing is seen from angles including street justice, personal retribution, and socio-political motivation.
Before snickering at that last mention as being too heavy-handed a theme for a movie that knows it has an unbelievable idea powering its engine, rest assured that “The Purge: Anarchy” is smart enough to respect disbelieving audience minds. Michael K. Williams features in an additional thread as a Black Panther-esque activist whose grassroots group is determined to turn the tables on a perceived government conspiracy to pacify the sheep while simultaneously thinning the herd. For some, “The Purge” might still be too far-fetched of a concept. “Anarchy” is not out to answer the questions and fill in the blanks, however. It is mainly a platform for telling a story.
Yet “Anarchy” is not just about bullet-riddled gunplay and out-of-your-seat scares, although it has enough creepy masked marauders gesturing in slow-motion to burn more than one frightening visage into the brain. Underneath the setpieces designed for mainstream blockbuster appeal is surprisingly insightful social commentary about class separation and the true nature of humanity for those willing to look.
It would be easy to roll eyes at a moment like the sudden laying down of arms while in the midst of battle when the purge-ending siren sounds. Would people really do that? Yes, they would. Within the shell of movie violence and hyper-stylized entertainment, “The Purge: Anarchy” actually underscores the self-imposed morality of society. Humanity is always on the razor’s edge of mob rule, policed mostly by common sense behavior and a conscience. What happens when the hive mind grows tired of waiting for karma to rebalance the world and opts to take matters into their own hands? “Anarchy” is more than a subtitle. It is almost an inevitability.
Review Score: 85