REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER
For 21st Century Media
When “The Purge” came out last summer, it had all the earmarks of a one-off genre film. It became a surprise hit and begat “The Purge: Anarchy.” While the film springboards off the name of its predecessor, it is a much more ambitious and better executed vehicle.
The original film introduced the underlying premise of a government-sanctioned annual, 12-hour event. During it, people have total impunity to engage in nihilistic, anti-social behavior, even including homicide. That film was focused on a single family and was little more than a home invasion flick.
The sequel is set 10 years in the future. The film provides a societal overview and depicts the evolving relationship between a bunch of strangers. It also adopts a more jaundiced view on the motives of the government in allowing the yearly purge.
Most of the purgers seem to be committing random acts of violence and wrecking havoc just for the hell of it. By contrast, police sergeant, Leo (Frank Grillo, the assassin in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) is a man on a mission. Since Leo is out of uniform, we know that he must be off-duty. Indeed, during the Purge, the police stand down and allow violence and mayhem to prevail. Apparently, Leo is just exploiting the dispensation of the annual Purge to achieve an exquisitely specific personal agenda. He sets out in an armor-plated car and is toting some serious weaponry.
Eva (Carmen Ejogo) is a waitress, who works in a local diner. She is raising an outspoken 16-year old daughter, Cali (Zoe Soul). In addition, Eva is also trying to care for her ailing father, Papa Rico (John Beasley). He suffers from numerous ailments and requires costly medications. Where is Obamacare when you need it?
As zero hour for the Purge approaches, the Sanchez family hunkers down in their inner city apartment. Awaiting dinner, they watch television. Somehow, control of the airwaves is seized. An iconoclastic figure, Carmelo (Michael K. Williams of The Wire), appears on screen. He sports a beret, black turtleneck, black leather jacket, and dark glasses. It is evocative of the distinctive outfit favored by the Black Panthers of a bygone era. Carmelo warns that the Purge is actually part of an ominous government scheme by the so-called New Founders of America. He advocates that people rise up in armed resistance to it.
Then, there is a squabbling married couple, Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez). En route to their car, they pass through a parking lot. A gang of mask-wearing hooligans hover a nearby and watch them menacingly. Eager to avoid the impeding Purge, they jump in their car and head home. Their incessant bickering is interrupted by their car stalling out. The couple gets out to inspect it. They discover that it has been sabotaged by the thugs in the parking lot and has been rendered inoperative. Now aware that they have become proverbial sitting ducks for the purgers, the couple is gripped with panic.
Through a series of plot twists, Leo rescues the mother and daughter Latina duo, Eva and Cali. He then meets the contentious couple, Shane and Liz. Begrudgingly, Leo agrees to help them. However, he makes clear that his help is only temporary. After all, Leo has a self-appointed mission to discharge. It must be completed while the dispensation of the Purge remains in effect.
“The Purge: Anarchy” offers a scathing analysis of class warfare. We have explicit scenes of the privileged class savoring the opportunity to indulge in social Darwinism during the Purge. For them, the Purge has become a cherished social ritual, which is a much akin to Thanksgiving. Only instead of carving up a turkey carcass, they enjoy the spectacle of dispatching members of societal underclass. The scenes depicting this dynamic are thoroughly chilling.
The acting is surprisingly good for this genre of film. While there are no big names here, some of the cast members deliver compelling performances. As the most central character, Frank Grillo presents an interesting blend of a world-weariness and steely resolve. Throughout the film, his laconic figure is racked with an ongoing moral dilemma. In a circumscribed role, John Beasley captures an unmistakable dignity. As the mother and daughter, Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul provide strong performances as loving family members, whose relationship is challenged by adversity. Michael K. Williams is spot-on in his role as the charismatic head of a ragtag band of revolutionaries. He injects an anti-establishment fervor into the proceedings. Down with the man!
James DeMonaco, who wrote and directed “The Purge” is back again. He has upped his game here, providing some well-crafted scenes and adroitly maintaining the pacing of the narrative. DeMonaco, who had also scripted the remake of “Assault on Precinct 13” has a definite feel for depicting a world run amuck and consumed by a maelstrom of chaotic violence. The cinematography by Jacques Jouffret is impressive. Look for a vivid vignette of a fire-engulfed bus, careening wildly out of control. The electronic score by Nathan Whitehead helps create just the right mood for this haunting film. Veteran mixer, Willie Burton, augments the score with just the right amount of complementary background sounds.
“The Purge: Anarchy” is a totally uneven film, but one that is not without its redeeming merits. While it often devolves into a hyper-violent gorefest, it is redeemed by clever sociopolitical commentary and strong production values.
“The Purge: Anarchy” *** R (for strong disturbing violence, and for language) 103 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.