The 400-Word-Review: The Purge: Anarchy
By Sean Collier
July 21, 2014
The birdcages of Hollywood are lined with fine ideas. Worthy premises, while valuable, are not especially rare; most aspiring writers with access to an all-night diner, a pot of coffee and a pack of cigarettes can come up with a suitably engaging concept.
The nugget behind the two “Purge” films, 2013’s The Purge and slapdash sequel The Purge: Anarchy, is a viable idea. In the near-future, a reworking of the U.S. constitution has lowered unemployment, homelessness and poverty by way of an annual culling; for 12 hours, every conceivable offense is decriminalized, leading to a nationwide murder spree.
It’s an idea that opens a script up for social commentary, but more importantly tills rich soil for horror. In last year’s film, we spent the annual slaughter in the home of a middle-class family who proved to be much less popular (and thus, much less safe) than they thought. It was a modest triumph and a financial success, but left the viewer wondering about the world beyond a suburban home.
Anarchy, again written and directed by James DeMonaco, shows that world: instead of one location and one set of characters, we follow a quintet of unremarkable protagonists through an urban setting on purge night. Most of their struggles are against interchangeable groups of hunters, though a top-level conflict between the largely purge-proof ruling class and a militant, anti-government uprising adds a pinch of spice.
Unfortunately, DeMonaco is all idea, without any notion of how to execute a story. Not only are our leads bland, the circumstances that lead to their peril are random bursts of gunfire, with nothing like a structure to connect them. Any good will built by the introduction of anti-purge elements — the rebel leader Carmelo, played by Michael K. Williams, is the only actor in sight with a clue — is squandered, with the revolutionaries only factoring in to save our heroes at a crucial moment and then disappear again.
And while DeMonaco has a loud-and-clear message about the violence that simmers just below the surface of modern society, it seems that no one craves a vengeful release more than the filmmaker himself. DeMonaco takes special delight in letting his camera stick on dispassionate scenes of extreme violence, as passersby are shot down like deer on the first day of hunting season. It’s tough to condemn violent impulses and revel in them at the same time.
My Rating: 3/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark