The Purge: Anarchy (2014) – Review

Directed by James DeMonaco
Written by James DeMonaco
Starring Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez

Anarchy is a very big word. It conjures up scenes of World War Z proportions. You can rightly expect to see hordes of screaming innocents pouring like a sea of terrified inevitability through the streets of Los Angeles on the evening of March 21st, chased by just as many machete wielding nutcases, taking the advantage of this one day to commit all kinds of government sponsored atrocities against their fellow Americans. This isn’t really anarchy, so to speak. More enthusiastic, albeit limited, opportunism. That probably wouldn’t have scanned as well on the poster, I’m guessing.
Perhaps DeMonaco is actually commenting here not only on the gaps between rich and poor (yes, we get it, it doesn’t need to be so laboured, it was like this the first time too), but also the impatience most fit and able Americans seem to exhibit for a bloody good war. If they can’t find someone to fight with from abroad, then what the hell, once a year, they could always just fight each other.
And if we’re honest, would you really want to discourage them? They seem like they’re having a super, special, smashing time and if it lowers the number of  those too foolish, ignorant or just plain disorganised enough to be out and about when the hooter sounds, well perhaps that’s all the better for the rest of us. You don’t need to take part to appreciate the economics of the idea, and that is what makes it interesting, more than the story fashioned here about five people we spend altogether too much time with and still don’t really care too much about by the end, Not fascinating, you understand, but certainly intriguing enough to spawn a sequel, and possibly more. If it does, however, it needs to be more inventive than what DeMoncao is offering here.
If you’ve seen the original film (if not, why on earth are you bothering here?) then you will already be familiar with the premise. Every March for one day, a government backed initiative, entitled ‘The Purge’ gets underway from seven in the evening until seven the next morning. Between these two points in time, you are free to commit murder in pretty much whatever fashion you see fit, on anyone you can possibly get away with doing it to. Why? Well, if you need a reason, and many don’t it seems, this idea is sold on the statistics that the annual event reduces crime year-on-year and in its six-year-run, is now enjoying its most successful (judged by the number of people taking part, or, well, murdering people) period since its inception.Essentialy, if you go out and kill each other, you can generally be regarded as a decent upstanding patriot by the powers that be. Other crimes are fair game aswell, but murder is DeMonaco’s crime of choice. If he wanted to really horrify us, he could probably make a story about some other mortal sins that could be carried out on the night. Just sticking to murder seems, well, a little unimaginative.

But understandable. The Purge is, some believe, designed to legally reduce the amount of those that ‘have not’, filtering the least valuable from a society that was just looking for an excuse to kill them off anyway. Boxed, marketed and sold as a good thing for the ‘haves’, the government doesn’t even have to lift its own finger to cull the most needy and save a bundle. A win-win situation, right?Well, not particularly for the audience who will be asking themselves just why they are paying again for what is ostensibly the same movie as last time. Okay, the larger proportion of the film is spent outdoors this time around, but the premise is exactly the same. Survive the night is the hashtag the film has gone with and this is no different to the first film. There’s no Ethan Hawke backing up the star power meter so this is left to Frank Grillo, who in the nicest possible way, is not exactly star material, despite his best efforts to glare and appear moody and misunderstood by everyone. He’s a bit handy in the ‘fisticuffs and shooters’ department though, and this makes up for his lack of magnetism in other areas. The rest of the cast are mostly there to run and hide and the character arcs for all of minimal, making rooting for good guys about as satisfying as cheering on the bad ones.

In all, a lacklustre sequel that doesn’t really do enough with the admittedly novel idea of Purge Night. Personally, I’d like to see a little more soul in subsequent entries to what may well be a long running franchise. Perhaps DeMonaco can study the aftermath of Purge Night or at least not focus on the murder aspect. There are efforts here to branch out beyond purely the anarchy suggested by the title, by introducing an element of ugly finance, a la Hostel. This was a good idea, in embryo, if far from thoroughly examined.

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