Within the context of this fledgling franchise, The Purge: Anarchy is a whole lot better than the original film. Fleshing out its narrative beyond the basic home invasion ideal that limited writer/director James DeMonaco’s initial dystopian thriller, we now get a chance to see how the entire city of Los Angeles reacts when the nationally mandated “night of lawlessness” occurs. For those who don’t remember the set-up, a newly elected set of government officials, known as “The New Founding Fathers,” has decreed one 12-hour period per year as “The Purge.” Meant to cure both economic and social woes, all crime is legal, with only certain restrictions on weaponry.
Of course, both The Purge and The Purge: Anarchy are too poorly written to deal with many of the consequences contained in such an idea and, instead, merely focuses on murder. Apparently, everyone in these New United States can’t wait to start killing people, from the oldest, richest one-percent to the dime store hoods downtown. Of course, some believe that the entire process is just a conspiracy to rid the country of its “undesirables,” but again, DeMonaco is not smart enough to make that subtext work. Instead, we get standard action beats, typical horror tropes, and at least one obvious rip-off from hundreds of movies past.
This time around, we follow three independent stories that eventually merge. Angry father Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) is using this particular Purge to right a wrong that happened to his family. Waitress Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her rebellious daughter Cali (Zoe Soul) are out on the streets, trying to avoid a mysterious tanker truck and a bunch of well-armed SWAT team members. Couple Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) are also lost in the city, having had their car sabotaged by a bunch of masked men in a utility van. Eventually, all five of these individuals meet up, with Leo taking charge of getting them to safety. What they discover is that there’s a vast government plot to “provide” victims for the Purge, as well as a rebel underground led by Carmelo (Michael K. Williams) hoping to end the practice once and for all.
Thanks in part to its innately interesting core idea, The Purge: Anarchy is not a total waste of time… but it almost is. It is better than the first film, if only because it broadens its scope, not its competence. This is a poorly made excuse for a nail biter, with no characters to care about, no threat that isn’t seen from a million miles away, and no desire to deal with the obvious issues within the failed future shock itself. There is one word that would make any potential Purge wholly unacceptable to even the most crime-torn community, and while we’re not going to mention it here, let’s just say that our desire to protect children would be greater than allowing everyone to do anything they want once a year.
By avoiding the obvious (or excusing it away with a single line of dialogue) DeMonaco can only accentuate the derivative. Thus the survivalist storyline and the last act descent into Hostel/Most Dangerous Game territory, the seemingly friendly family with its own threatening agenda, and the blatant political pandering. The Purge: Anarchy doesn’t have the audacity of its central idea. Instead, it plays it safe, and by doing so, becomes a crowd pleaser without complexity, a middle act without meaning.
Oh yes — one imagines we will get another Purge somewhere along the line. You don’t introduce a group of rebels and a charismatic ass-kicking leader and not give them more to do than show up, last minute, to mop up a mess. The next installment will probably play up the resistance, amplify the “haves and have nots” angle, and turn the entire mess into the class war it wants to be. (Cough, hungergames, cough.) Maybe then the whole concept of The Purge will make sense then. As it stands, this sequel takes a preposterous idea and makes it even more so.