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Dustin's Review

The Purge: Anarchy  (2014)
2 Stars
Directed by James DeMonaco.
Cast: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zoë Soul, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Justina Machado, John Beasley, Jack Conley, Noel G., Castulo Guerra, Michael K. Williams, Keith Stanfield, Roberta Valderrama, Niko Nicotera, Brandon Keener, Edwin Hodge.
2014 – 103 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong disturbing violence, and for language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 16, 2014.
Detractors of 2013's "The Purge" usually talk about their disappointment that the film's setting is too self-contained for a hair-raising concept that would seem to better lend itself to a wider scope. The premise is a humdinger, imagining a near-future state where, for one night per year, the U.S. government (led by "The New Founding Fathers") has sanctioned all crime—including murder—legal. What many naysayers overlook about the picture is that by centralizing the action to the solitary location of a well-off family's high-security adobe, writer-director James DeMonaco was out to make a cutting microcosmic commentary on class division and morality. Getting there, the movie threatened to become a standard home-invasion thriller, but where "The Purge" led in the final stretch was brave, provocative and devilishly unexpected. In devising a sequel, returning filmmaker DeMonaco has clearly listened to the criticisms leveled at his previous feature. "The Purge: Anarchy" does, indeed, widen its breadth to explore what is happening out on the city streets during the deadliest twelve hours of the year, proving to be a fitting companion piece that doesn't simply repeat the formula of its predecessor. Within this change, however, is also a sometimes uncomfortable deviation in genre from horror to action pic.

March 21, 2023. As the 6th Annual Purge edges toward a 7:00 p.m. commencement, struggling single mother Eva (Carmen Ejogo) finishes up her waitressing shift and heads home to spend the evening with teenage daughter Cali (Zoë Soul) and ailing father Papa Rico (John Beasley). Across town, the enigmatic Sergeant (Frank Grillo) begins to load his arsenal of weapons in his darkened apartment, while young couple-in-crisis Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) are horrified when their car breaks down in the middle of the city. As Los Angeles becomes a ghost town of homicidal human specters, these strangers will collide, faced with no choice but to rely on each other if they hope to survive to see the next morning's light.

In its change in style and tone, "The Purge: Anarchy" is to "The Purge" what 2005's "The Devil's Rejects" was to 2003's "House of 1000 Corpses." What was terrifying and whimsically phantasmagoric in the earlier installment has shifted to a grittier, more action-oriented realism here. Which one the viewer prefers will depend on his or her personal sensibilities. Picking up a year after the events in the first film, DeMonaco chooses to focus on an entirely new set of characters (though there is one brief reprisal) and move outward from a sole building to a whole city. Why U.S. citizens not planning to participate in the Purge would still be driving around a half-hour before it starts is anyone's guess, but the frantic, helpless fear that Shane and Liz experience when they find themselves trapped in plain sight with seemingly no one to help them is the film's most chilling conceit. Had the narrative chosen to follow them and only them, there might have been more focus to a story that goes off on a number of tangents and relies too frequently on close calls and last-second rescues.

The ensemble cast fill their rather stale roles admirably, but only Carmen Ejogo (2012's "Alex Cross"), as the financially strapped Eva; Frank Grillo (2014's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"), as no-nonsense savior Sergeant, and Justina Machado (2013's "The Call"), as Eva's troubled friend Tanya, stand out from the crowd. Their chase through the streets by an artillery-filled white van and a gang of mask-wearing hoodlums, the word "GOD" scrawled on one of their foreheads, is tense in its own right, but no match for a quietly nail-biting interlude where the imperiled group take shelter with Tanya and her nervously contentious family.

At the end of "The Purge: Anarchy," there is still plenty left undiscovered about the frightening but not completely implausible alternate future which this series occupies. What do other countries think of this new American holiday, and is it permitted for citizens to flee overseas or into Canada every March 21? Without giving key plot developments away, the climax introduces elements thematically similar to 2006's "Hostel" and 2007's "Hostel: Part II" while diving deeper into the haves and have-nots of a nation welcoming cold-blooded murder once every 365 days—an extreme but so far statistically hopeful method of cutting down on crime and improving employment rates. Director James DeMonaco is willing to broaden his horizons, but has yet to break out of the ambitious but not consistently successful realm in which he is currently stuck. Nevertheless, whether every scene works or every idea is exploited to its fullest capacity is beside the point. "The Purge" and now "The Purge: Anarchy" are worthy of discussion and debate, both of them socially conscious, politically loaded allegories that just so happen to also pass for genre fare.
© 2014 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman