“The Purge: Anarchy” Movie Review

     In the summer of 2013, “The Purge” became a breakout horror hit with it’s combination of John Carpenter inspired suspense and an original story that seemed to get the wheels turning in the brains of all who saw the film.  Writer/director James DeMonaco clearly owed a lot to the low light claustrophobic settings made famous by Carpenter’s “Halloween”, as prospective victims move about the house with bad guys lurking amongst the shadows.  “The Purge” was effective in that it presented a unique take on the kind of dystopian future stories that have become commonplace today.  Just one year later, DeMonaco continues the story with “The Purge: Anarchy”. This time expanding the story away from a single residence and bringing it to the streets where our imaginations based on the first film would lead us to believe there is utter chaos.

     As an inspiration, I would guess DeMonaco re-watched Carpenter’s “Escape From New York” to formulate the foundation of where he would go with this inevitable sequel.  No doubt, the original film left plenty to be explored, but it, perhaps, could’ve waited two or three years in order to ensure a higher end and more polished product.  Instead, the filmmakers have chosen the usual route successful horror films take and elected to churn out another film just one year later.  Though “The Purge: Anarchy” has ambitious ideas, you can tell the film was a rush job that intends on capitalizing from the first film’s momentum and therefore failing to create any momentum on it’s own.  DeMonaco has supplied a script which has a decent plot structure with plenty of twists, but the characters are typical horror film caricatures whose dialogue is exactly what you would expect.

     You may recall the first film establishes the fact our society, in the year 2023, has virtually no crime or poverty.  This is thanks to the new government in place called the New Founding Fathers, who have created an event called the “Annual Purge.”  Essentially, this means all crime, including murder, is legal for 12 hours.  The belief is this “cleansing” as they call it, will allow people to rid themselves of their violent nature and thus behave as model citizens for the rest of the year.  Some choose to exercise their right, others barricade themselves within their homes (as in the first film), hoping to survive the ordeal.  What you wouldn’t want to do is exactly what the five main characters in this film do.  Exposing an otherwise normal horror film flaw in that characters tend to make illogical decisions, the group we spend the film’s running time with, never seem to proceed in a way that makes any sense.

     “The Purge” featured mid level star power with the leads played by Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey respectively, but the sequel only manages a group of unrecognizable actors with character actor Frank Grillo (“Disconnect”) handling the lead actor duties.  It’s clear DeMonaco wants the film’s premise to be the main focus, rather than the people who populate it.  This ultimately may have worked in the first film, but like the “Paranormal Activity” franchise, the premise becomes a one trick pony, meaning the filmmakers need to provide something else as the sequels begin to pile up and that something else is clearly missing here.  As you would expect, these five people find themselves on the street at the wrong time.  Grillo’s character Leo is a Police Sergeant who is using this night for a personal vendetta.  Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) are a married couple whose luck runs out when their car breaks down just minutes before the “Annual Purge” begins.  Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter, Cali (Zoe Soul), intend on staying safely behind closed doors until an attack on their apartment forces them to the streets as well.

     The story centers around Leo tactically leading the other four through city streets crawling with all sorts of baddies looking to cleanse themselves.  It’s both a survival of the fittest scenario and an indication that in this society, class and privilege are still the most important indication of one having the ability to survive.  As was hinted at in the first film, the rich hire teams of goons to kidnap people, who are then dropped into a kind of “Hard Target” situation in that wealthy people bid for the opportunity to hunt and kill them in a controlled environment.  Clearly, DeMonaco has something to say, but it doesn’t appear he really knows how to present it.  The film contains some genuine thrills, but not nearly enough when you consider the vast canvas an entire city provides for the kind of mayhem that would certainly occur in this situation.  Characters written with more depth may have done the trick, but as is, “The Purge: Anarchy” wallows in the shadow of the films it intends to pay homage to and struggles to set itself apart from the glut of painfully average horror sequels we see each year.  GRADE: C-