Action Film Review

One-Night-Only Film Review: The Purge: Anarchy

July 18, 2014Ben Mk


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From dusk till dawn...

If movies like Saw and Paranormal Activity — and their respective sequels and prequels — have taught us anything, it's that the notion of yearly installments is a viable one (at least with respect to horror films). You'd think that the practice would only accelerate franchise fatigue, but moviegoers seem to genuinely embrace the annual ritual. The filmmakers behind The Purge franchise have certainly taken this to heart, and they've even gone one step further, by incorporating the ritualistic aspect into the story itself. Welcome to the world of the Purge. Prepare for anarchy.

   

The premise — as it was conveyed in 2013's The Purge — is simple: in near-future America, sociopolitical and economic turbulence have paved the way for the New Founding Fathers, a group of politicians who pledge to rebuild the country anew. As a means to a harmonious nation, they've enacted the annual holiday known as the Purge, a 12-hour period during which any and all crime — especially murder — is legal (barring a handful of stipulations). But though this single night of cathartic violence has succeeded in dropping crime and unemployment rates to all-time lows, the costs are high for the potential victims.

Taking place one year after the events of the first film, Anarchy chronicles the ordeal of one such group of individuals, as they attempt to survive Purge night 2023 in downtown Los Angeles. Among them, Leo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier's Frank Grillo), a man out to punish the drunk driver who took the life of his son, Shane and Liz (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez), a stranded couple fleeing the hooligans who sabotaged their car, and Eva and Cali (Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul), a single mother and her daughter snatched from their home by armed soldiers bearing an uncanny resemblance to government agents. It's a diverse group, but, ultimately, the only character who's able to sustain our interest throughout the duration of the entire film is Grillo's, who finds his mission of vengeance unexpectedly interrupted after he crosses paths with the other characters, becoming their reluctant protector.

Watching Leo cruise the darkened streets of L.A. in his souped-up armored car — a trunk full of weapons and a mind hellbent on revenge — one can't help but be reminded of another gritty anti-hero: The Punisher. Grillo certainly looks the part, and he's got the tortured persona shared by both his character and the Marvel icon down pat. Not to mention, he brings immense authenticity to the film's action scenes, whether he's unloading a clip full of ammo into his adversaries or subduing a stubborn opponent with his bare hands. The other characters, however, are less memorable: Shane and Liz are basically a rehash of almost every hapless couple-turned-potential-victims found in run-of-the-mill horror films, while Eva and Cali fare only slightly better, filling the role of Leo's newfound conscience.

Aside from Grillo, Anarchy's other bit of inspired casting comes in the form of The Wire's Michael K. Williams as an underground resistance leader named Carmelo — a character in a similar vein as Demolition Man's Edgar Friendly or Total Recall's Kuato — who rallies the city's underclass to retaliate against the regime of the New Founding Fathers. Via Carmelo's "Call to Action", writer/director James DeMonaco takes the sly societal subtext of his original film and brings it to the forefront, with Williams channelling his outspoken/foul-mouthed inner Samuel L. Jackson as he decries the government's sinister agenda of promoting class warfare to weed out those on the bottom rung of the socioeconomic stratum.

Unfortunately, DeMonaco doesn't explore the resistance subplot to its fullest potential, presumably saving that for future sequels. He does, however, avoid retreading familiar territory by ditching the claustrophobic, house-bound setting of the first film in favor of a GTA-style urban nightmare. The result is a front-row seat to the chaos and calamity that was only briefly glimpsed in news clips and surveillance footage the last time around, as ordinary citizens transform themselves into masked marauders who skulk the streets in search of blood. And while that translates into an escalating level of violence that could have very well have devolved into parody, DeMonaco handles it with a darkly satirical touch that lets the audience know that the movie's in on the joke, instead of becoming the butt of it.

The Bottom Line As far as sequels go, The Purge: Anarchy avoids most of the usual pitfalls, taking us further into the world established in the first film and even laying the groundwork for future installments. The basic concept — a 12-hour, government-sanctioned killing spree — is still as ludicrous as ever, but the gravitas that Grillo brings to the lead role makes it easy to suspend your disbelief. There's no denying that it feels like the next logical evolution of the franchise. And we'll no doubt be seeing more of it come this time next year.  Ben Mk








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