The Purge was a more intimate tale of a society on the verge of going incredibly, incredibly wrong. For one 12-hour period a year, we learned that America was subjected to a "purge," a period where every crime was legal and every citizen was on their own without any possible assistance by police or ambulance or any other public servants. While certain higher level government officials were exempt, The Purge was said to be America's solution to crime and poverty and all of society's other ills. Of course, in The Purge we really only watched everything unfold through the lens of one well secured and gated community and, in particular, one family that made the potentially misguided decision to help someone in need.
The "What if?" questions ran wild in my brain after watching The Purge.
I had more questions than answers by the film's end and, despite enjoying the film far more than expected, found myself uncomfortably jarred by the ways in which the film ignored the overwhelming potential of the world outside that gated community.
We saw murder. We saw violence.
But, we didn't see the depravity I'd fully expect to run rampant in a world where every repressed thought, desire, and impulse could be acted out without punishment.
Revenge. Rape. Massacre. Destruction.
If you can't think about this idea without taking it much further, then you likely live a very sheltered life.
Writer/director James DeMonaco must've instinctively known that everyone else's mind wandered as well, because The Purge: Anarchy leaves behind the sheltered communities and places its story on the hardcore streets where a "real life" purge would unmercifully take hold and would likely cause its greatest chaos.
The story evolves around three sets of individuals:
Sergeant (Frank Grillo) is a mysterious man with an obvious agenda whose plans to participate in the annual purge are obviously fueled by what he believes to be a higher calling.
Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) are a couple in conflict racing to get home who encounter one of numerous gangs of roaming youth whose ominous presence would seem to imply a rather disturbing lack of police presence even before the annual purge begins.
Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and Cali (Zoe Soul) are a working class mother and daughter whose lives seemingly center around the declining health of their grandfather and who quickly find themselves assaulted in their home and fleeing to the streets.
The Purge: Anarchy takes the story of this annual purge into the darkest corners of where it really needed to go, though it certainly never covers those rare extremes that one might expect. For example, in a society where the weak are so vulnerable to an annual purging it seems unfathomable that no nursing homes, schools, or other mass residences would ever be attacked. On the other side, it was hard not to wonder as the original The Purge unfolded exactly how we'd watched an entire film about 12 hours of legal crime and had never seen a hint of sexual assault or revenge or mass destruction or truly psychotic behavior. In the original film, it all felt remarkably controlled and, despite the chaos, rather orderly.
Orderly goes out the window here.
The Purge: Anarchy also finds DeMonaco angrier and amping up the social insight, the potential for exploitation and, quite honestly, the entire likelihood that this annual purge isn't really about some silliness called crime control but about reducing crime and poverty through population control and eliminating society's weakest links. There are several scenes in the not exactly subtle film that point directly at a governmental manipulation that contradicts its assertion that the police are truly hands-off during this annual purging.
While DeMonaco takes The Purge: Anarchy into a broader and more intellectually satisfying direction, the film on the whole feels less jarring and unsettling than its predecessor. I will confess that after the original film, I felt myself unsettled as I returned after dark to my inner-city home where my house has had two break-ins and where I've had moments of feeling isolated and vulnerable anyway. This time around, I didn't return home with that sense of vulnerability or dread, perhaps owing to DeMonaco's more universal approach to this film and, at least partially, also owing to the fact that even having spent considerable time with these characters I felt less invested in their stories.
I also found myself more than a little disappointed with the actual anarchy part of the story, an angle fueled by the presence of a mysterious character known as Carmelo (Michael K. Williams), a revolutionary whose determination to fight back against those of wealth and power isn't explored nearly enough in this film but will likely be more explored in what I'm guessing will be a third go-around for the series.
As Sergeant, Frank Grillo makes for a grizzled and unsettling presence whose motivations aren't exactly secret even if they aren't truly detailed until later in the film. Grillo has already proven to be a convincing action presence in such films as Warrior, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Zero Dark Thirty, but his presence here possesses more of a brooding stoicism with hints of heroism and largely (and refreshingly) devoid of the usual action/pop emotional vulnerabilities that we often get when a guy that we think is a bad guy ends up being not quite so bad. While the rest of the supporting cast performs quite ably, they are occasionally burdened with such stilted dialogue that it's hard to become overly invested in their goings on.
The Purge: Anarchy relaxes into this concept quite a bit more than its predecessor, a relaxation that for the most part works wonders and gives the concept its breathing room. While DeMonaco can't quite resist the urge to at times paint scenes with an almost B-movie eloquence that makes certain scenes play out with a tongue-in-cheek quality, such an approach actually works to give the audience a bit of breathing room as we prepare for what's going to unfold next.
Jacques Jouffret's lensing is dark and menacing and lingering, though Nathan Whitehead's paint-by-numbers original score was more distracting than atmospheric.
My gut tells me that a good majority of folks are going to consider The Purge: Anarchy a modest improvement over its predecessor, with DeMonaco successfully expanding upon his basic concept and managing to do so while pulling it all into a meaningful and action-packed story. The original film was more like a horror/thriller, while The Purge: Anarchy plays out much more like an action/thriller. For my money, I've got to give the original film a slight nod as even amidst all its plot loopholes and obvious flaws I left the film jarred, unsettled, and unable to shake the film for days.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic