Friday, July 18, 2014

The Purge: Anarchy

Review by Matt Finley

The best part of 2013’s THE PURGE was conversations you got to have after the movie. Who cleans up all the bodies? How does the number of Purge-related injuries at any single corporation affect their annual health insurance costs? And why would the government encourage such a high annual citizen death toll a mere three weeks prior to the income tax deadline? Most importantly, does Denny’s offer a special promotional Purge Slam?

It’s entertaining to see, then, that the new installment, THE PURGE: ANARCHY, helmed by returning writer/director James DeMonaco, seems to be based on similar (if slightly less esoteric) conversations held by the creative team in the wake of the first film’s complete inability to make good on its expansive, dystopic premise.

An action picaresque in the style of THE WARRIORS, ANARCHY follows a group a five civilians – couple-on-the-rocks Shane and Liz (real-life couple Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez), mother/daughter pacifists Eva and Cali (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul), and Sergeant (Frank Grillo), a purger with a heart of gold – as they mount a desperate purge-night trek across a violence-addled City of Angels.

While the film spends undue effort struggling through the expositional red tape needed to introduce the characters, dump them out into the purge, and pull them together, the flick gets groovin’ once they’re finally stranded amidst the pandemonium. Motorcycle-mounted hooligans in monster masks drag victims into an unmarked white van. Mysterious tractor trailers filled with SWAT-swag-swaddled grunts lay siege to housing projects. Rich folks are gettin’ all HOSTEL up in that piece.

Each situation is obviously tailored to explore a different thematic nuance (and I am using that word lightly) of the purge. Though applied with all the subtlety of an elephant painting with a hockey stick, it still manages to pack in way more ideas than the ill-advised first film, most of which hold focus around class divide and the purge as a big brother-tested, populace-approved method of eliminating the poor.

The choice to lead a single set of characters through an alternating series of vignette-style fires and frying pans is really the single inspired device that ensures ANARCHY succeeds where its predecessor fizzled. In fact, Sergeant’s backstory is so yawningly cliché (if you haven’t guessed at his motivation by the 30-minute mark, it means you’re thinking about it too hard) that the more we know about a character, the less invested we become.

Often, the most striking images are glimpsed in passing, untethered from the film's running story: an armed, pacing lunatic spouting a wild manifesto between wildly discharged clips, a dead-eyed schlub cracking a beer while hoisting a sniper rifle out on the roof, a bloody plutocrat crudely affixed to the pillared façade of a bank.

Most of ANARCHY’s rhetoric is pure middle school (jeez – the film doesn’t even get to the level of detail captured in Tyler Durden’s “we cook your meals, we haul your trash…” speech, and that’s, like, working poor rebellion 101), but, then, the broad concept of the purge, and its role as societal panacea and/or Lemon Pledge for the soul, is so ideologically stupid as to diffuse any correlations to our current society.

That having been said, as an inciting premise for a low-budget horror-action movie, it has potential. In THE PURGE, DeMonaco suffocated that potential beneath heaps of family melodrama and belabored home invasion clichés. THE PURGE: ANARCHY is a decisive course correction, finally wringing a noticeable, if fleeting, portion of bloody entertainment from the original’s limp world building and unrealized promise of a country’s descent into full contact aggression-exorcising mayhem. (3 out of 4 Stars.)

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