The Purge: Anarchy Movie Review
After last year's break-out hit thriller, writer-director James DeMonaco is back with the flip-side of the story, which jettisons the irony and and thematic subtlety in favour of in-your-face brutality. This time the account of a night of lawful violence is told from the opposite perspective, poor people who are targeted by sadistic rich people who are trying to cleanse their souls with a bit of grisly murder.
It's set one year later, in 2023 Los Angeles as the annual 12-hour Purge is about to begin. The idea is to cleanse society of its violent urges, but this has turned into an all-out war between heavily armed militias hired by the wealthy to capture poor people for their own homicidal entertainment. As an underground activist (Michael K. Williams) calls for a grassroots uprising, the waitress Eva (Carmen Ejogo) is just trying to get through the night alive with her teen daughter Cali (Zoe Soul). When they're attacked, an unnamed stranger (Frank Grillo) comes to their rescue, and they're soon joined by a couple (Zach Gilford and Keile Sanchez) whose car picked the wrong time and place to break down. Together, these five attempt to escape pursuit by two vicious gangs: lowlife mercenaries looking for fresh blood to sell to wealthy clients and a high-tech army bent on all-out massacre.
It's deeply contrived that these two gangs are deliberately, tenaciously and seemingly supernaturally pursuing these five people, but DeMonaco never flinches, so the audience just has to go with it. Much of the movie consists of massive nighttime street battles, but there are some more deranged interludes that hold the attention much better. At one point, they take refuge in the downtown home of one of Eva's colleagues (Justina Machado), a drunken party that is clearly spiralling out of control even before they arrived. A little later, they are dragged right into a variation on The Hunger Games. And while four of our heroes are running for their lives, Grillo's character has something more violent in mind: he's seeking revenge against the drunk driver who killed his son.
This is a rather feeble attempt to add some underlying meaning to an otherwise superficial romp through a variety of gruesome killings. But at least there are moments along the way that add something more interesting to the rampant nastiness. Oddly, DeMonaco seems to be saying that everyone has within them the urge to murder people at random, except of course for a tiny handful of more principled good guys. This pessimistic (and lopsidedly paranoid) worldview makes the film very difficult to stomach if you think about it very much. But fans of rampant slaughter will enjoy DeMonaco's simplistic approach. And they'll be struggling to wait a whole year for the next Purge.