The common consensus concerning the orginal Purge, Blumhouse’s typically political 2013 slasher/thriller, is that it wasted it’s thought provoking premise by restricting it to have Ethan Hawke getting chased around his house like a high-concept rip-off of 2008’s hove invasion flick, The Strangers. It also weirdly chose to focus on a upper-class white family being victimized when it would be fairly obvious that it would be the people lower down the social ladder who would reap the terrible whirlwind that a twelve hour of government mandated lawlessness would undoubtedly bring.
Thank god for The Purge: Anarchy then; a sequel whose inflated budget meant we could finally experience this infamous event from the place where it would be the most terrifying: the streets.
In an alternate America, the governing body of the Founding Fathers Of America have created an annual event called the Purge in which all crime is legal for a single night in order to burn off the social unrest that has built throughout the country. While the powers that be are claiming that this period of unrestrained chaos has actually saved the economy of America, the lower classes are now regarded as lower than ever by the ruling class and as the residents of the greater Los Angeles area await the siren that signals the start of this fateful night, we follow various, terminally unlucky groups of people who find themselves out during a day at least half as stressful as Black Friday.
Our first subject is Leo Barnes, an off duty policeman who is planning to use the Purge as a chance to legally murder the man who killed his young son in a drunk driving incident and who has pimped his ride into being bullet proof while hoarding a bunch of automatic weapons in order to shoot his way to his target if he has to. Second up is the painfully white couple of Shane and Liz who are stranded out after their car is tampered with and who are attracting the attention of some masked Purgers who are just aching for that siren to start. Finally we have the mother/daughter duo of Eva and Cali Sanchez who find themselves walking the streets of slaughter-central while desperately searching for their sick grandfather who has actually sold himself to rich Purgers in order to gain some money for his family.
As these three groups of people eventually converge in a hail of bullets and blood, Leo reluctantly takes it upon himself to protect those in his charge, but as the night wears on he notices heavily armoured and heavily armed troops walking the streets with a sinister agenda (I mean… even more sinister than grabbing a blade and going on a psycho rampage). Can he possibly help these everyday people to survive a night full of assassins and maniacs while still pulling off his quest for revenge?
Writer/director James Demonaco (loving that surname, sir) finally nails the concept he flubbed in the first Purge movie and instead of a stripped back thriller, leans full on into a dystopian nightmare that nestles itself snugly between two of John Carpenter’s urban classics Escape From New York and Assault On Precinct 13. It’s the long overdue “Carpenterization” (not a real word) of the franchise that managed to gift us by far the best of the series so far which to date includes a further three sequels plus two seasons of a TV show. When your world building is this rich a less is more approach simply isn’t going to cut it and the aggressive expansion of not only of the environment, but the cast means the full social commentary can flow the way it should. That’s not to say the commentary is subtle; Christ, far from it; but even though the portrayal of the malevolently rich and powerful is ridiculously cartoonish, the down to earth portrayals of the poor bastards stuck on the street is enough to lend gravity to proceedings.
However, the most beneficial element proves to be the involvement of the magnificent Frank Grillo who truly seems to be made for the sort of role that requires him to add pathos to a man who is essentially a mobile skull cracking machine turned up to eleven. With his long black coat, tanked up muscle car and the ability to righteously fuck up the shit of any masked maniac who crosses his path, Grillo’s grizzled anti-hero may actually be the greatest unofficial adaptation of Marvel’s The Punisher you’ve ever seen and watching his vengeful resolve slowly crack as the night wears on leads to a legitimately emotional one on one with the target of his intended revenge.
If I’m being honest, the build up is a little bit better than the post-siren payoff that episodically bounces from a government conspiracy to alter Purge figures, to a resistance movement lead by The Wire’s Michael K. Williams, to an utterly random gunfight in the apartment of Eva’s workfriend. The moments where Liz and Shane realise they’re stranded downtown as dusk slowly approaches are legitimately nerve wracking, especially considering they’re being eyeballed by a group wearing appropriately creepy masks, and plays on our stomach-flipping fears of realising you are seriously in the wrong fucking place at the wrong fucking time.
The performances beyond Gillo’s are fine, although once the shooting starts the script doesn’t seem to have the first clue as to what to do with it’s other leads who spend the rest of the night mostly cowering behind Leo as he gets them out of yet another scrape but Carmen Ejogo as the working class Eva manages to make more impact than most.
With all that being said, The Purge: Anarchy is a pure example of a franchise hitting it’s potential with the deadly accuracy of Grillo thudding a hollow point into the chest cavity of a lunatic who thinks it’s ok to rape and kill just because the government said so and sadly the series was never this strong again.
Taken on it’s own merits, this second Purge around the block is a cool, throw-back thriller that’s way above average but taken as part of a whole, it’s a glittering jewel in a dented, dystopian crown.
Feel free to binge this Purge.