Only a year ago, The Purge hit theaters with one of the most original concepts a horror film had seen in a while: Every year, all Americans can commit any crime (including murder) for 12 hours straight. This 12 hours is allowed in order to serve mankind’s need to satisfy their most indulgent and violent fantasies. To purge themselves of hate. The remaining 364.5 days, they would be forced to remain upstanding citizens. While this premise was unique, the original film was not. Following an engaging first half, the film quickly devolved into every slasher thriller you have ever seen.
This year brings us The Purge: Anarchy and returning writer / director James DeMonaco has dropped the clichés and random bloodletting to craft a nihilistic action-thriller that seems designed as a spiritual cousin to the John Carpenter classic Escape from New York. What an insanely hyperbolic claim, you say? Let me tell you why.
Going into The Purge: Anarchy, you need to be prepared for one thing above all else: This is not a horror film. Where the first film was all about preppy spoiled brats stalking and slicing, Anarchy follows the actions of a man known only as Sergeant (Frank Grillo) as he sets off on his mission of personal vengeance. Along the way he sidetracks himself by saving Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter, Cali (Zoe Soul), from certain death. As if his conscience did not detour him enough, he brings stranded motorists Liz (Kiele Sanchez) and Shane (Zach Gilford) into the mix. Sergeant wants nothing more than to kill one man, yet his character continuously ignores common sense by refusing to allow these innocents to die.
As Sergeant leads his motley crew throughout the city, they are forced to avoid the most depraved citizens our world has to offer. Snipers, hunters, and sadistic sycophants peruse the city seeking blood lust at every corner. Sergeant refuses to ignore his ultimate goal, yet even his inner Punisher cannot leave this group to face certain death. Much like Escape, Anarchy becomes about one man annihilating scores of random douchebags while desperately fighting against a ticking clock. Only this film’s ‘Snake’ drags a piggy-backing survivors along for the ride.
While the other actors all do a fine job (except for the over-the-top revolutionary Carmelo, played by Michael K. Williams), this movie is owned by Frank Grillo as Sergeant. This is one of those performances where every time they show ANYONE else, all you can think of is: Where the hell is that badass guy with no name, tons of guns and attitude, and carrying 45 tons of awesome strapped to his back? Give this man his own action franchise now!
Grillo is tough as nails, yet never forgets to bring humor and his sardonic smile to every fight. James DeMonaco has managed to create a character that I think you will see fans clamor for more of, and it is completely due to Grillo taking this role by the balls and making it his own. If they ever finally get that Escape From New York remake off the ground, here is Grillo’s feature-length audition.
The action is swift and violent, while the social commentary is biting. Did our government enact the purge simply to weed out the poor and destitute? How far would ‘normal’ people go if given this opportunity to express themselves with blood and tears? This time around we see the broader scope at play with this ‘New America’, and I would find it pretty difficult to argue humanity is much deeper than what we see through Sergeant and his merry men’s eyes as the night presses on.
After the initial shock of this being a completely different genre of film than the original, it is hard not to get behind the fun of The Purge: Anarchy. This is a sick, twisted world full of evil and petty common folk finally unleashing the beast that lies in all of us. By abandoning the rather limited scope of a residential neighborhood and opening it up to every sick bastard most large cities have in surplus, director DeMonaco has finally lived up to the promise from that first film.
Yes, The Purge may seem ridiculous as a concept to fathom. Until you grab that first cup of coffee from that snotty clerk, or get cut off by some jackass in morning traffic. That’s when we all start feeling that maybe a little purge now and again couldn’t be all bad. Could it?
3.5 stars out of 5.