Sunday, July 20, 2014

Review: The Purge: Anarchy

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
This sequel to the surprise hit "The Purge" still feels like an interesting concept in search of better execution. However, "Anarchy" is a small step above its predecessor due to an expanse in scope, a handful of pretty intense set pieces and a more pointed social commentary. It's not a great movie by any means, but rather an occasionally gripping piece of summer pulp.

Director James DeMonaco appears to be taking his cues here from John Carpenter, who is obviously a great filmmaker to mimic when making a politically driven, low budget horror film. The first "Purge" was set almost completely in a home, whereas "Anarchy" takes place all over the streets of a barren and creepy Los Angeles, giving the picture an "Assault on Precinct 13" vibe as its group of protagonists must fend off hordes of violent purgers during a 12-hour time period.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the rulers of a futuristic United States known as the New Founding Fathers have allowed citizens to live out their most violent fantasies for one night with no fear of repercussion. Shops close down and the police are nowhere to be found. Citizens barricade themselves in their homes in the hope that no purgers will attempt to beat down their door and kill them.

The first film was a case of a unique concept with a mediocre execution. In this sequel, DeMonaco expands his horizons. The lead characters in this picture are an Hispanic woman named Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter Cali (Zoe Soul), who are dragged out of their housing project building and nearly killed before being saved by a man known only as Sergeant (Frank Grillo), a fully loaded and combat-ready individual who appears to be on some sort of mission of vengeance. There's also a bickering couple (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) on the verge of a split.

Also playing out in the background - and, eventually, the foreground - is a plot line about a group of revolutionaries led by a man named Carmelo (Michael K. Williams, of "The Wire"), who calls upon the people to fight back against the one percenters who are protected from purging by their wealth and prey upon the poor. Carmelo argues that it's the lower class citizens who are the real victims of The Purge since they cannot defend themselves. Throughout the course of the picture, we also spot a group of paramilitary types breaking into lower income housing projects, stealing away its citizens and delivering them to the homes of the rich, who then slaughter them.

For a low budget genre film, "Anarchy" delivers some pretty sharp commentary - aside from the rich/poor divide witnessed in the picture, there's also some thoughtful reflections on our violent, weapon-obsessed culture. At times, the film spells these elements out a little too much for its audience, but it's a rare thing to see a studio release during the summer months taking on such topicality.

Although it's often intense and quickly paced, the issues that plagued the first film - the villains being entirely too broad and without much motive and holes in the logic of the world that's been created by the filmmakers - are still present here. And I nearly laughed out loud when - via electronic billboard - one of the New Founding Fathers refers to their "regime," a word that even the most crooked despots would avoid when describing themselves.

On the whole, "The Purge: Anarchy" is an improvement over the first film in the series. There's still some work to do on the part of the filmmakers to make this concept truly work. Here's to hoping that it won't take another couple sequels to figure it all out.

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