Review: 'The Purge: Anarchy' Triumphs Where Its Predecessor Tanked
by Jeremy Kirk
July 18, 2014
Future sequel-makers in the horror field should pay attention to The Purge: Anarchy. The follow-up to last summer's dystopian action/thriller does so much more with what this franchise has been given by writer/director James DeMonaco. With The Purge, DeMonaco envisioned a new America, one with minimal unemployment and even lower crime rate. The annual Purge, 12 hours when all crime, including murder, is perfectly legal, satisfies the animalistic cravings of the population. The first film was a wasted opportunity, confining itself to a single home invasion and not even doing a very good job of it. Unlike the citizens of the Purged nation, moviegoers weren't satisfied, demanding much more from the cool premise.
Not just a powerful subtitle, The Purge: Anarchy delivers on what its title suggests. Unlike the first film we're now out in the world, witnessing all manner of horrible depravities the human brain can conjure up. It's a chaotic world DeMonaco has created, his original film going to great lengths in telling us just how much so. With The Purge: Anarchy he doesn't just tell us, he shows us. He takes us on the wild ride through Los Angeles streets with two pairs of people, a couple (Kiele Sanchez and Zach Gilford) and a mother and daughter (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul), all of them unfortunately finding themselves trapped in the city. On the other hand, we have Sergeant (Frank Grillo), a man who chooses to venture into the city armed to the teeth and on the hunt for someone who has wronged him.
There are certainly elements DeMonaco pulled off well with The Purge. The build to the event itself is the strongest story aspect in both films. As with The Purge, Anarchy utilizes this time to develop these characters, creating a firm connection that then strengthens the action when the shit hits the fan. You care about the characters DeMonaco has written, and, what's more, you get the impression that DeMonaco cares about them, as well. These are not paper-thin stereotypes or tropes that fill so many horror films these days for the sole sake of creating a high body count. Not only does DeMonaco craft believable and likable characters, his story holds onto them for a long period of time, each scene of brutal, torturous violence intensifying the suspenseful atmosphere surrounding them.
At that point, The Purge: Anarchy slips into a bit of the wash-rinse-repeat cycle, Sergeant serving as hero in navigating the unintentional participants through city street-after-city street. Some of them are lined with broken-down vehicles, some with dead bodies. Sometimes the "Purgers" come at them with a machine gun, sometimes it's a flamethrower. And each scene seems to blow right by with as much suspense being leveled on the audience as was intended.
This is thanks, in part, to DeMonaco's intriguing screenplay and the way it continues to develop this future-USA he's conjured up. His screenplay this time around delves into the social and economic factors that appear to drive The Purge, going after the 1% in the process. A rebellion of sorts is touched upon through the cracks in the foreground story, Michael K. Williams appearing as the leader of this band of anti-Purge citizens. DeMonaco's film never quite pulls the trigger on the subplot, figuratively speaking alone, and that aspect to the film seems to only hint at what we may see during next year's Purge.
The other factor that keeps the action on the screen from tedium is the strong cast DeMonaco has pulled together this time around. All four of the helpless citizens are brought to life via commendable performances from everyone around. However, the night, this night in particular, belongs to Grillo. A journeyman actor since the early 1990s, Grillo has always been a solid performer, lending strength to secondary characters in films like The Grey, End of Watch, and earlier this year in Captain America: Winter Soldier. As Sergeant, he takes on the lead role with as much earnestness as the grave film requires. Despite filling in nicely as The Punisher if such a character existed in the world of The Purge, he's not all gruff and grit, and the dramatic turns DeMonaco's screenplay take in the film's 3rd Act bounce the character around emotions like pinball bumpers. Grillo, to the man's credit, nails every chord the film demands of him.
A sequel doesn't have to be leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. God knows they can't all be Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. But understanding a film's biggest strengths and weaknesses is a strong start when developing its sequel. The Purge: Anarchy delivers as promised, a stylish actioner packed with all the hell that would come with such a law in the real world. DeMonaco has discovered the slasher for the current age, ideologies are more dangerous than any single, masked killer roaming the streets. With intensity and eruptions in equal parts, The Purge: Anarchy delivers its maker's message as it should, a few hundred bullets at a time and maybe even a machete or two thrown in for good measure.
Jeremy's Rating: 7.5 out of 10
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