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Review: ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ Has Little New to Say, But It’s More Intense & Tactile Than its Predecessor

Review: 'The Purge: Anarchy' Has Little New to Say, But It's More Intense & Tactile Than its Predecessor

2013 was a revitalizing year for horror films at the box office. The 1-2-3 combination of “The Purge,” “The Conjuring,” and “You’re Next” wowed the industry from a commercial and critical (mostly) standpoint. “The Purge” was the dark horse of the trio, taking in critical bile, mine included, for unforgivably wasting the most interesting premise for any kind of film, forget just horror, that I’ve heard in years. Writer-director James DeMonaco took the idea of a government sanctioned 12 hour period where all crime is legal and stuck it in the middle of a boring home invasion movie where there’s now an explainable reason for why no one bothers to call the cops. Thanks to its overwhelming commercial success ($64 million against a measly $3 million budget), a sequel was greenlit immediately, and now we can bear witness to “The Purge: Anarchy,” a sequel that manages to correct some of its predecessor’s mistakes but whose scattershot tone still strands it in the space between gory high-camp thrill rides like and overly serious social justice polemics.

The horror focus has been jettisoned for the most part this time in favor of an action-thriller vibe similar to old John Carpenter like “Assault on Precinct 13” or “Escape from New York.” The New Founding Fathers’ Purge is a resounding success resulting in record low and high crime and employment rates, respectively. Five people find themselves literally and figuratively outside of their comfort zones and smack dab in the middle of a huge city on Purge Night for different reasons. Mother and daughter Eva and Cali Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul) are forced out of their home by a strike team looking to bring poorer citizens to the doors of the rich for slaughter, couple Shane and Liz (Zack Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) run out of gas on the highway, and ex-cop Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) is purposely on the streets to seek vengeance for the death of his young son. Barnes leads them through the war-torn streets and all the while revolutionary Carmelo (Michael K. Williams) attempts to convince the population to utilize The Purge as a time to reject and overthrow The New Founding Fathers.

The main problem with the first “Purge” was its cop-out decision to ground an interesting premise into a story that we’ve seen hundreds of times. Both films emphasize that every crime, INCLUDING MURDER, is legal. That may be the cool hip crime, but what else is everyone doing during this twelve hour period of lawlessness? Are people pirating terabyte after terabyte of films and music? Are there jaywalkers crossing the streets by the hundreds? Do hackers like Anonymous and others do most of their work at this time? Is there a flood of illegal immigrants coming into America from all over the world? Do hack doctors with no medical licenses conduct all of their surgeries during The Purge? Do foreign countries think of invading the United States?

As I’ve stated before, there are a lot of places to take this concept, and to its credit “Anarchy” does attempt to vary things up a bit. Street toughs begins to offer protection services to poorer citizens and we’re even granted an inside look at how the richest of the rich do their duty. I won’t spoil it, but if you’ve been paying attention to the commercials and go in understanding that the rich are irredeemably evil, you’ll figure it out fast.    

Now, I’m an advocate of social justice polemics in films. I just talked about how “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” was a nuanced allegory disguised as an ape-tacular action pic last week, and as a satire of sorts, “Anarchy” does have an overarching point to make. “Anarchy” takes every opportunity it can through Williams’ Carmelo to confirm what was only implied in the first film about wealth disparity and the rich devising The Purge as a way for the lower classes to kill each other off to balance the economy. It even goes so far as to have the rich literally hunting down the poor for sport. Subtle, “Anarchy” is not.

Despite the hard swipes at low-hanging fruit, “Anarchy” doesn’t have much to say about what’s going on besides “the rich are evil.” It’s blunt and has nothing new to say, but “Anarchy” is a much more intense and tactile film than “The Purge.” The pace is more frenetic and there’s plenty of surprisingly gory action that’s entertaining. Frank Grillo’s performance and character shackles “Anarchy” with the second problem that “The Purge” had, namely an inconsistent tone. It could never decide whether it wanted to be a straight horror film, a family drama, or a thriller and fell just below all three. In fairness, “Anarchy” is indeed a slight improvement here, as much as a film about The Punisher guiding four wayward souls through the urban jungle can be. DeMonaco seems to be getting a grip on exactly what he’s trying to say, but the blunt and dated manner in which he says it is drowned out by the action. It’s no “Escape From New York,” but an improvement is an improvement, even if the overall pot still refuses to come to a boil. I’m hoping DeMonaco explores the world of Pirate Bay next.  

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Mary Adams your comments were on target. This is not a black/white issue. More so of class distinction and furtherance in thinning out the very thickened jungle of a society. I really like how you were able to eloquently get your point consistently across about the real evils of society. A depraved society financed by a manipulative big brother (government) that is in a win-win position is a mean combination.

Mary Adams

(PART 2) I think that the use of whites as the antagonists is meant not to say that the whites are the rich and the black the poor: it is to show that the rich are composed of more whites, but there are blacks also. So this is not about whites but about the rich. Notice the black female in the expensive restaurant who was cheering as the protagonists(both black and white) are brought to them to be killed!

The white couple on the verge of divorce represents the middle class that is being squeezed. The waitress and her daughter and her old father represent the poor who are being slaughtered. In fact the government is shown trying to pitch in to kill the poor because the citizens are not 'purging' enough. This shows the citizen's lack of faith in the free marketeering being promoted by the elite, who also control the government. The elite are shown as heartless towards the poor and the middle class, but who become concerned when their own rich are killed when the tables are turned in the film. The most horrifying part is seeing the old father allowing himself to be killed by the rich so that the money they have paid to enjoy killing him can help his daughter and granddaughter: Ladies and Gentlemen, if this is not an indictment of unfettered, free-market capitalist rape and slaughter of the 99%, then I don't know what is!

And at the end of it all, when the protagonists are in the tunnels, we find the homeless–just trying to survive, who are also killed by those better off and who believe that the weak and the poor must be purged. This movie is an indictment of our society. Obamacare was a lie. We were supposed to receive universal healthcare, but we got Obamacare, but this is still better than nothing. However, it shows us that what is basic decency, and should be available to the citizens of a country as a right, is withheld from them and they are made to suffer, as though they live not in a country but in the jungle!

The first Purge movie had a stupid concept, but this second one is not like that. This has a genuine theme: unless we treat our citizens as human beings, nothing will change in America.

Mary Adams

(PART 1) I found the theme of the first movie stupid, and I believed that had I gone to see the second part, I should have been treated to the second instalment of the nonsense that was delivered to me in the first. In fact, only on the insistence of my friend did I go to see this movie, for the choice was between watching the preposterously stupid concept of apes led by a chimpanzee wrenching control of the planet from human beings and this one: neither I nor my friend cared for the rest of the movies that were playing this month. "It will be a good way to pass the time", my friend told me; "It is going to have plenty of action, tension and excitement. It will be like World War Z." So, only a little convinced, I decided to go with him to see this movie. It is I believe the biggest surprise I should be getting this year with regard to movies.

If a movie whose superficial motive seems to concern making money off violence, then this movie has far surpassed itself. If a movie that was meant to be only a rather cheap action movie, could have surpassed its abject purpose, and done so magnificently, then this is the movie. If what appeared to be just a drab housemaid was actually a princess then, ladies and gentlemen, this is that movie. This is the greatest work of art, wittingly or unwittingly, produced in America since the Matrix trilogy.

This is a movie of our times, and it seems to be advocating revolution. It is about the creation of a modern world in which the strong must be stopped from preying on the weak. This is a perfect metaphor for the Great Recession and the aftermath of the assault of the rich on the poor. And how even the government seems to have abandoned the poor and the middle class people.If this movie is about anything it is about all that is wrong with the philosophy of America. Not only does this challenge the current American philosophy of the survival of the fittest. It actually convinces people that their cherished ideals can be wrong and that this country which they may consider great is actually like a beast that preys on the weak and the vulnerable, and that this has to stop.

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