REVIEW: THE PURGE – ANARCHY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JAMES DEMONACO / SCREENPLAY: JAMES DEMONACO / STARRING: FRANK GRILLO, ZACH GILFORD, KIELE SANCHEZ, CARMEN EJOGO, ZÖE SOUL, MICHAEL K. WILLIAMS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
In a year of pleasant surprises (Godzilla’s thematic closeness to Ishirō Honda’s 1954 original, 22 Jump Street’s success, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes triumphing this summer and that Guardians of the Galaxy post-credits scene) here is another. James DeMonaco’s The Purge was arguably not a high flier with reviewers back in 2012 but had a good premise going for it. The film was set in the not too distant future, where the annual purge has become a part of the American way of life. The purge is one 12-hour event every year where all crime (including murder) is made legal and allows citizens to cleanse their souls of darkness. The last film set up this potentially meaningful narrative but veered off more into a home invasion thriller, but for all those infuriated by that focus behind closed doors, maybe you should see what James DeMonaco offers up in this improved sequel.
The film follows three different character arcs during the twelve hours; one involving a geared up Sergeant Leo Barnes (Grillo) on some kind of mission, a couple stranded outside when their car breaks down and a mother and daughter cast into the murderous fray. Inevitably the characters meet and form a group to survive the night. Anarchy, in spite of the flaws that populate it, is a gritty and successful sequel. DeMonaco has clearly listened to the criticisms of the last film and has taken the action out onto the deadly streets of Los Angeles and consequently we have a movie that capitalises more on the concept. Anarchy really digs deeper into the rich/poor divide ideology (with a rich club subplot especially), also making time for government conspiracy and the rise of vigilantism in modern culture. It is not a groundbreaker by any means but Anarchy at least has a brain beneath the bullet-fraying violence.
This sequel in many ways feels unashamedly like a B-movie from the '80s and Frank Grillo’s silent but deadly lead is the perfect anchor for this vibe. After his successful badass turn in this year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Grillo shows that he makes a fine leading man and a thoroughly convincing tough nut. The rest of the characters may not have quite as much impact, indeed stranded couple Shane (Gilford) and Liz’s (Sanchez) story is somewhat dropped come the climax - although Eva (Ejogo) and her daughter Cali (Soul) are believable victims with good hearts and Michael K. Williams is clearly having a ball as revolutionary anti-purge figurehead Carmelo. The film does not so much have villains as it does threats and its video game-like quality may mean there is a lack of depth or logic at times but the fun is there, as is the thought.
Anarchy takes its action, production, message and scale to a grander level and the masked hooligans, armed street gangs and shady surveillance forces all make this really live up to its title. This B-movie blast of violence and gangland thrills may have had little to live up to but all the same it emerges as a bit of a pleasant surprise. Even if the conclusion feels slightly too goodwilled for all that has come before, this is still an efficient genre picture. Years back you could well imagine Stallone or Schwarzenegger in the leading role and at times the film takes on the same violent energy as films like The Running Man and The Warriors to provide an engaging, not wholly developed but effective follow-up to a neat idea. No doubt the purge will come around again next year (in fact the closing line all but confirms it, as does the film’s nice profits thus far), but after this sequel, maybe that is not such a bad thing.
Expected Rating: 5 out of 10