Mark your calendars, folks: Only 364 days until the next annual Purge.
Or so it promises at the end of this sequel to last year’s Ethan Hawke-starring home invasion movie “The Purge”, which at the very least was a serviceable thriller with a couple of decent twists and turns.
No such thought was afforded “The Purge: Anarchy”, an action/horror dud that expands on the first film’s premise about a future America in which crime is virtually nonexistent and unemployment is under 1%. Why is this? Because once a year, for twelve hours, all crime including murder is legal.
It’s a conspiracy to exterminate the poor and impoverished, who don’t have the means to defend themselves while the dregs of society roam the streets and invade homes in search of cheap thrills. Apparently this outlet — known as “releasing the beast”, as one shotgun-wielding cretin repeatedly intimates through a maw of decaying teeth as he attacks two women in their apartment — is enough to keep violent criminals at bay for the other 364 days of the year.
According to “Anarchy”, this opportunity to cleanse the soul also turns wealthy socialites into ritualistic killers and sibling rivals into gun crazy psychos (example: if you have a jealous, unstable sister, it’s a bad idea to pick the night of the annual Purge to get drunk and flirt with her husband). The big villains here are a governing entity known as the New Founding Fathers, the implementers of this bloody tradition, who we occasionally see making announcements on televisions and Jumbotrons, but unlike films like “Strange Days” and “V for Vendetta”, “Anarchy” has no interest in exploring this Orwellian concept beyond its purpose as a setting for total unbridled carnage. It’s all too self-serious to make respectable satire, while also too unintentionally funny to be taken seriously.
Not everyone is depicted as a bloodthirsty psychopath — we need to have good guys, after all, and thankfully the film gives us people to root for. Our five protagonists include a mother and daughter (Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul) who narrowly escape a gruesome fate thanks to a mysterious badass (Frank Grillo) who’s on his way to avenge the death of his son. Happenstance also puts a thirty-something couple (Kiele Sanchez and Zach Gilford), who are fleeing the gang of masked machete wielding maniacs who disabled their car, in the back seat of Grillo’s armored cruiser, which is quickly disabled after taking fire from a high-tech Gatling gun.
The film, which takes place one year after the previous movie (the year is 2023), is more hammer-and-nail than cat-and-mouse as Grillo’s reluctant hero and company navigate a gauntlet of assailants. The second half of this film is about as stimulating as watching someone else play a video game; though competent from a technical standpoint, the action sequences become progressively more noisy and mechanical, eventually falling into redundancy over a distended 103 minutes, until culminating in a climactic shoot-out that is equal parts ridiculous and boring. Returning writer/director James DeMonaco introduces plenty of nasty customers throughout, from mysterious paramilitary goons to flamethrower-wielding urban hillbillies to a cartoonish country club society that hunts people for sport, but save a few creepy sequences that foreshadow the impending danger, there’s little suspense to speak of. A rebel group (led by Michael K. Williams of “Boardwalk Empire”) joins the fray at the eleventh hour as if to bail this movie out of its tedium, but it’s well after “Anarchy” has run out of steam that they come in guns blazing.
“The Purge: Anarchy” might expand on the original film geographically, but for a socioeconomic allegory, it’s about as broad in thinking and insightful in exploring our nature as a “Saw” sequel. It simply goes through the motions, showing us how awful and depraved human beings can be, hoping we won’t notice how unimaginative it is. At the same time, the violence is not nearly as graphic as I’d anticipated, so even hardcore horror fans who aren’t too worried about the film’s political relevance might walk away a little sullen. I wasn’t expecting an intellectual awakening from this film, but with a solid cast (including the ever-awesome Grillo, who was in the Captain America sequel earlier this year) and a decent setup that suggests an urban “Mad Max”, I was hoping at least to be challenged. There is a silver lining in the conclusion, and I guess we can expect several more of these movies to come down the pike over the next few years, as this premise can be mined for endless possibilities. Let’s see if it makes it all the way to “The Purge: Apocalypse” and “The Purge: Extinction”.