The Purge: Anarchy
Posted July 17, 2014 by Daniel Hodgson in
A typical summer movie, The Purge: Anarchy is big dumb fun—and I do mean dumb.
The Purge: Anarchy is a rare sequel that’s better than the original. Consider, however, that the original was horrible, so it had nowhere to go but up. The sequel is an improvement; it’s watchable, but bottom line—I wouldn’t pay evening prices for it.
For the uninitiated, the near future of America is almost crime free, because for one night, all laws are suspended, making theft, murder and rape perfectly legal, allowing citizens to purge themselves of animal aggression. The rich arm themselves, while the poor hide in fear. Is a year of a perfect world worth one night of pure hell?
Five strangers end up downtown, the center of chaos in the city. Eva and her teenage daughter Cali find themselves dragged from out of their apartment by a SWAT team. A nameless man (Frank Grillo), driving an armored car and armed to the teeth, sees the mother and daughter, and reluctantly saves them from death or worse. When he takes them back to his car, he discovers Shane and Liz, a middle-class white couple, hiding in his car after theirs had been sabotaged before they could get home.
They escape in his car, but don’t make it far after a heavy firefight with the leader of the SWAT team. The nameless man has a personal score to settle, and is using the anarchy of Purge Night to get payback. Saving Eva and Cali may have cost him his revenge. However, Eva promises him that he can borrow her friend’s car if he can get them to the safety of her house.
This is what the original film should have been. It takes advantage of the premise, putting the main characters on the streets, caught in the maelstrom of violence and mayhem. Fans of the original will find that the genre has switched from horror flick to action movie. Newcomers, on the other hand, do not need to catch up on the original; a character from the first film makes an appearance, but you don’t have to know who he is at all to understand what’s going on. A sequel in a conceptual sense, The Purge: Anarchy is a new movie with new characters, strong enough to stand on its own.
To its credit, it goes for an “R” rating. Unlike The Hunger Games franchise, it does not pull its punches to make a buck on mass audiences. The entire point is to show that the cost of a supposedly Utopian society is violence and killing, and by golly, it shows the violence and killing in graphic detail. Unfortunately, Anarchy takes a shortcut, using unconvincing CGI effects for the blood splatters. This digital stuff doesn’t fool anyone. If the entire point of the movie is the blood, don’t fake it.
A typical summer movie, The Purge: Anarchy is big dumb fun—and I do mean dumb, dumb because it assumes that the audience is dumb. There’s a moment where Eva reads a letter of grave significance to her daughter, and then explains what it means to her when it’s self-explanatory, done solely for the benefit of the audience, whom the filmmakers assume must have the I.Q. of a potato. We get it! We don’t have to be spoon-fed everything, especially the obvious.
Like the previous film, the characters do dumb things to create tension. Prior to her capture, Eva leaves her gun in another room in her apartment, when she should have her gun on her person at all times under the circumstances. Shane and Liz’s function is to get the group into trouble, a function they perform at least three times. Without the nameless man, the four of them would be purged in a heartbeat.
During my screening, the entire audience let out a collective groan when Shane and Liz started talking about their relationship during a lull in the action. There’s just no reason for them to exist in this story, given that the nameless man is already protecting the more vulnerable, more sympathetic mother and daughter pair anyway. It’s a common flaw in screenwriting these days: unnecessary characters. Has no one read Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling?
And I don’t think I’m nitpicking here, but…why doesn’t the nameless man, the smartest guy of the lot, drive to his target’s house before the Purge commences, when it’s safe? Why risk driving there and back during the chaos? Oh, whatever…
As far as what the film is trying to say, it’s plain to see that in the literal class warfare of the film, the organizers and benefactors are the wealthy elite—and not coincidentally, white—and the targets are the poor—also not coincidentally, black. In its final moments, the film shows its hand, all but coming out and saying that class warfare is a guise for racial tensions. I’d argue that one is not a mask for the other. They’re separate problems, but often go hand-in-hand, sadly.