Director – James DeMonaco
Cast – Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoë Soul, Justina Machado, John Beasley, Jack Conley, Noel Gugliemi, Castulo Guerra, Michael K. Williams, Edwin Hodge, Keith Stanfield
Release Year – 2014
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I remember being very excited for The Purge last year because of its unique storyline concept and the inclusion of Ethan Hawke, who had just starred in the awesome Sinister. While giving us one of the most intriguing storylines of recent time, The Purge was a bit of a disappointment. Not bad but not great either, it harbored much potential that never surfaced. When I saw the trailer for The Purge: Anarchy I was the least bit interested in seeing it. The story seemed to abandon the horror element and instead focus more on action, and without a big name to star in the film I assumed it would be a direct-to-video release. Little did I know, Platinum Dunes and Universal Pictures had faith in writer/director James DeMonaco and gave him a wide release for this sequel. Had it not been for an invite from an attractive woman I would have passed on seeing this effort during its opening weekend, and I am very glad that I took this opportunity. The Purge: Anarchy not only brings forth good horror that I did not expect, but it expands on the Annual Purge concept and vastly surpasses its predecessor – making for one of the best horror films so far for 2014.
Set in Los Angeles, California on March 21, 2033, a police sergeant bent on avenging a haunting memory runs into two groups of people unfortunate enough to find themselves in the midst of the Annual Purge. The sergeant has a decision to make: ditch the people he just saved to kill the man who wronged him on the one night it would be legal, or save the innocent parties being hunted down by two groups of savage killers. Neither decision will bring him peace, so he does what anyone in his situation would do – both.
DeMonaco expands on his original story by incorporating more than just one family under conflict as well as bringing the chaos from inside the safety of one’s home to the streets of LA. We mainly follow the Sergeant and the decisions he is forced to make throughout the one night he is able to carry out a murder. He faces many ethical / moral decisions that will affect not only him but those who are relying on him for protection. The people who depend on him are not out “purging” but either suffered car trouble before getting home or were dragged out of their homes by a mysterious paramilitary force with a yet unknown agenda. This story continues to grow with the inclusion of government influence on the Annual Purge, as well as a growing militia movement aiming to fight back against a government that they claim uses the purge to weed out the poor and disenfranchised. I really enjoyed this militia element not only because I love defiance, but also because it reminds me much of society today and the growing movement in opposition of government surveillance and intervention into our personal lives. The Purge: Anarchy isn’t necessarily a film with a social statement or one with much social commentary, but it does make you think a bit and go along for the ride. I have seen some reviewers speak ill of the film because it was not as “smart” as it should be, but why “should” it be as smart as they expected? It was obviously not DeMonaco’s intent to produce a propaganda film. Instead, he gave us a story we can relate to thanks to current issues, but also an action-packed experience heavy in tension, violence, and horror. This tension is especially prevalent because there is a new threat at every corner. In the first film we followed the Sandin family as they barricaded themselves in their own home and tried desperately to fight off the intruders aiming to break in. In this film our protagonists are on the streets with nowhere to hide or bunker down, therefore they must constantly be on the move. This kept the experience a highly engaging one as there were very few moments where the protagonists could feel safe somewhere. Once again though, the story expands again with the inclusion of the wealthy class. In the first film the antagonists were of wealthy origin and looking for some excitement in their lives. With this film they learned that going out to purge was much too dangerous, so they instead hire mercenaries to bring people to them. The wealthy then auction off the chance to hunt those held captive in a closed off hunting grounds. This sequence was an incredible one that left me feeling as hopeless as the captives, but DeMonaco had all kinds of tricks up his sleeves to up the ante. If I have any complaints to make about the writing it would be the way he wrote some of his characters. The Sergeant was well-written, but everyone else paled in comparison and mainly served minimal purposes. I really wish there would have been more of Carmelo, the leader of the resistance against the New Founding Fathers, but we only received him on a minimal level – leaving room for him to be developed in a later film.
The direction from DeMonaco also improved over the first film, and is solid as can be. His atmosphere is fantastic, keeping us on edge throughout the experience even before the Annual Purge begins. Executing the characters is another element he succeeded on, with Frank Grillo stealing the show as the Sergeant. Frank seems to have a knack for portraying badass characters efficient in violent tactics, as he also portrayed Brock Rumlow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The adversaries chasing those he chose to protect were also portrayed in effective fashion, scaring us at times and providing lots of tension during their pursuits. As far as the kills go there are lots of them. To me the heavy kill count aids in keeping the viewer engaged, however because most are killed with guns don’t expect too much in the gore department. Victor Crowley chose not to purge this year.
Overall, The Purge: Anarchy is an awesome experience that I highly suggest you become a part of. It improves on its predecessor in multiple fashions, from the horror, tension, kills, and storyline. The writing is solid and so is DeMonaco’s direction, making him a solid filmmaker delivering clever ideas in the often convoluted horror genre.