There were a lot of high hopes for The Purge: Anarchy. After the first Purge movie last summer was highly criticized for its waste of an interesting premise, the first ad for the second film in the series revealed that this new movie would take place throughout the city. This is the kind of setting that many filmgoers were hoping for the first time around, and something that would hopefully make better use of such an interesting idea. I have to give some respect to writer and director James DeMonaco for hearing the complaints of both filmgoers and critics and putting those suggestions to use in this film.
The Purge: Anarchy takes place one year after the first movie, although that doesn’t matter very much because this film has an entirely new cast. As most reading this review know, the Purge movies take place in a dystopian future in which the US government is able to keep its citizens docile by allowing one night every year in which all acts that are usually illegal are made permissible. Frank Grillo plays Sergeant Leo Barnes, a shell of a man whose son was murdered in a previous purge, driving him to go out looking for his child’s killer this time around. He meets a woman named Eva and her daughter Cali, a helpless pair that were taken from their apartment by a group of purgers nearby. The core group further expands when this trio runs into Shane and Liz, a young couple whose car broke down at the beginning of the Purge. This group of five must fight through several groups of gang members and other threatening forces in order to survive the annual bloodbath.
There are a lot of interesting ideas on display in this movie. There are some scenes that dive into the government’s motives behind the Purge, something that I personally would have liked to have seen more of in the film. It also presents us with the idea of the rich paying large sums of money to acquire poor people to murder during the Purge, something that seems both terrifying and appropriate for this dystopian society. The gang members reminded me of some of the waring factions from the video game Fallout: New Vegas, although I believe that the factions in that game had a bit more depth than what we see on display here. I also found Barnes’ character to be quite interesting. Grillo played the character as a sort of mix between Snake Plisken, John McClane, and a slew of other action heroes. It was refreshing to see a relatable character in this movie which is essentially a potboiler.
All of the other characters in this movie, however, were both uninteresting and idiotic. Eva and Cali are basically just objects for Barnes to protect. Shane and Liz were a bit more self-sufficient, but their characters weren’t interesting enough for me to really care whether they lived or died. It didn’t help that the script that they were using could have been written by an ambitious high-schooler, with horrible exposition and braindead exclamations such as, “I can’t believe X is dead!” and, “They’re chasing after us!” Sometimes, it literally felt like the actors were just saying exactly what they saw out loud, as if modern filmgoers are too idiotic to interpret the images onscreen themselves.
This movie also had a ridiculous, uneven narrative. In the beginning of the film, we are introduced to the idea of an uprising against the Purge, something that seems interesting, and would be a great main plot for the film. However, the movie soon turns into the horror-survival scenario described above, only for the uprising to make an appearance toward the end of the film. There were also several scenes which simply weren’t necessary in the movie at all, the worst of which was a section of the film where the group went to the apartment of one of Eva’s friends, a pointless scene that stops the plot dead until they leave. On top of all of this, the characters in the movie don’t act as real people would during an event like the Purge. Demonaco seems to not understand how to get from point A to point B in a logical manner, and his film really suffers because of this.
What’s sad about The Purge: Anarchy is that while I was watching it, I could only think about how good it could have been. If DeMonaco had only been the director on this film with someone else writing the script, this could have been a very clever thriller. The dystopian setting is great, and the idea of a society in which you can murder and rape one night a year without becoming a social outcast is truly terrifying. They could have done so much more with this movie by exploring other aspects of the society. How do people act all of the other days of the year? How many families, besides the Barnes, have been affected by the Purge? Do other countries condone the US partaking in this barbaric practice once a year? These are all things that I would be wondering about more if this movie had been even the least bit enticing. However, The Purge: Anarchy sports a weak script and an uninteresting set of characters that makes the movie fall in line with all of the other mediocre thrillers that we’ve seen over the past few years.