Release Date: 25th of July 2014
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Director: James DeMonaco
Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zoë Soul, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Michael K. Williams
In a dystopian near future America, there’s one night a year where all crimes are legal. Enforced by a sinister, faceless government this annual Purge is said to relieve tensions in the country, and with national crime and unemployment statistics at an all time low throughout the rest of the year, the populace is willing to tolerate it. Anyone who wants to rob, rape or murder are encouraged to go out on the streets and ‘unleash the beast’. Everyone else is best advised to lock up tight and stay at home. The Purge: Anarchy, sequel to last year’s sleeper hit The Purge, takes the same basic premise of a twelve hour lawless period but fleshes it out somewhat, enlarging its scope beyond the drab and derivative home invasion thriller of the first film by bringing the action out onto the wild, lawless streets.
A lone, unnamed badass tools up and hits the streets in an armoured sports car. With a twelve hour window he has the perfect opportunity to exact a mysterious, bloody revenge. A single mum and her activist teenage daughter lock the doors of their small flat. A bickering young couple have a breakdown at the worst possible time, in the worst possible place. Over the course of the film these disparate people are forced together out on the streets where they must navigate their way to a safe haven. With outrageously costumed gangs roaming malevolently and violence erupting all around a rag tag group, this is very reminiscent of Walter Hill’s The Warriors and John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, albeit with the rougher edges of those films smoothed off.
In the central role of the gun toting tough guy, Frank Grillo is far and away the best thing on show. Laconic and violent, he brings a welcome level of 70s era grit to the slightly sanitised 15 certificate proceedings. He’s mean and driven and shifty, a far more interesting character than anyone else onscreen; Grillo takes it by the reins and runs away with the film.
With the story moving onto the streets and the introduction of a variety of characters, The Purge: Anarchy expands on the core premise of the first film. While The Purge was content to paint the class conflict at the core of the film in black and white terms, this sequel complicates matters somewhat by showing the opportunism and avarice that ensues in legally sanctioned carnage.
Unfortunately though, while greatly superior to its predecessor, this film falls into several of the same traps that so hampered last year’s effort. It’s highly predictable, riddled with cliches, and as a result it isn’t particularly shocking or scary; the recurring shots of masked characters menacing innocent civilians in slow motion become so overused as to border on parody. Similarly some of the camera work is frantic, leading to some distracting shaky-cam that becomes a bit of a chore. It’s a shame, because when the camera settles down to a stop, cinematographer Jacques Jouffret is capable of picking out a visually striking and well framed shot.
As the film progresses, the insertion of new stories and ideas starts to grate slightly. The Purge was too narrow in focus, focusing on a single family in a single location, Anarchy has the opposite problem; it starts to overload the narrative with more and more plot points (a lot of which feel like sequel bait) until it sags under the weight of it all. For a film so heavily indebted to streamlined pulp cinema such as Carrie and The Warriors this is particularly weird. Still, after the bland, derivative bobbins of The Purge this is a step up in quality. If the series keeps improving like this then The Purge 3: Big Rammy might actually be good.