I covered The Purge as part of last year’s marathon and was not a fan of the movie, really only being impressed with Ethan Hawke as that man can lend credibility to just about any project he’s involved with, no matter how terrible everything that surrounds him may be. It was so strange to me that they had this gimmicky premise (all crime, including murder, is legal across the United States for 12 hours once a year) and then chose to execute it in the most trite way possible by just making another run of the mill home invasion movie with the occasional unique touch.
This year’s sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, showed a lot more potential as the film required moving beyond a single family and following people stuck out on the street while the purge is taking place. Opening up the scope sounded like it should resolve a lot of the original film’s problems. Eh, kind of. It’s certainly a better film but I was surprised to see a lot of the same issues present here, as well as a few new ones to go along with them.
Anarchy focuses on a few different characters. You got the young couple who doesn’t make it home before the start of the purge (do I need to capitalize the actual event? Nah I won’t give them the satisfaction) as their vehicle is tampered with by this franchise’s favourite trope – people wearing dopey masks that are supposed to be creepy. They are joined by a mother and daughter who are out there for reasons I already can’t remember which is not a very good sign. You also have Frank Grillo as a guy actively participating in the purge as he seeks to gun down the man responsible for killing his son. He quickly becomes the protector of the group as they try and survive on the streets until the purge wraps up in the morning.
My biggest issue with the first Purge was that you had this country wide event but only showed the tiniest aspect of it. Here I assumed they would open things up and we would get to see full scale anarchy. It’s the fucking subtitle of the movie so I don’t think my expectations were unfair. While the scope does open as we see more of the outside world and what goes down during these twelve hours, it still feels like a very contained movie. I’m not sure if it’s the low budget or the fact that a lot of the movie takes place in a lot of non-descript streets and interior locations, but the entire thing just has such a “back-lot” feel to it. The core group never seems to stumble upon more than a few people at the time and again maybe it’s my own expectations ruining things but I would expect the streets would be engulfed in sheer fucking chaos.
It’s also a largely repetitive film. Our heroes sneak around trying to avoid some purgers, then they get spotted, a gunfight ensues, repeat. The movie is primarily one extended shoot-out which as you can imagine does not make for a terrifically successful horror movie. It doesn’t even make for a successful action movie as the majority of these gun fights are played out the same way with a group of people on one side of an area, shooting at the people on the other side. The locations may change (though mostly just to another darkly lit, similar looking locale) but the events continue to play out largely the same.
The characters are all mostly stock, the only real interesting one being Frank Grillo as “Sergeant”. He has the closest thing resembling a character arc and Grillo makes for a damn fine badass so his character at least helps make things more watchable. His final scene is probably my favourite sequence in the entire movie. Everyone else though, eh. The villains (of which there are quite a few) are not very interesting except for maybe this one guy they call Big Daddy who fires this huge gatling gun thing out of the back of his truck. The creepy mask guys (see banner image for an example) are still lame and derivative. They once again make me think that the characters in the movie are consciously trying way too hard to be creepy.
There is one interesting angle to the whole thing where they start to reveal how wealthy people go about their purging activities but it doesn’t take too long before this subplot also devolves into another unexciting shootout. This one could be the most egregious offender as it takes place entirely inside a dark warehouse, a staple of the direct to DVD action genre. Oh and there’s a family dinner scene around the mid-way point that was pretty solid. I could have used more stuff like that where you start to see the mindset of regular people who decide to actively participate in the purge. But I guess that would get in the way of “bang bang shoot shoot” so there’s almost no exploration of that here.
The idea of crime being legal for 12 hours a year is a very silly one (I seriously don’t understand how it has proved so effective at improving the country) but there’s a lot of potential to make some entertaining movies based on it. So far they don’t seem too intent on making these movies. Anarchy is a slight improvement over the first one since at least we get to see a little bit more of the world during the event, but it still feels like a very small story, and it’s not an interesting one. The Purge: Mild Chaos would be a more accurate title for this one. Hopefully they throw a little more money at the third one and we see some of the true potential for this franchise.