Published Jul 17, 2014Setting aside the fact that its premise remains patently ridiculous, The Purge: Anarchy is still a remarkably flimsy assembly of bloodshed and mayhem masquerading as some sort of muddled social commentary. Brimming with cringe-worthy dialogue and moments that inspire laughter for all the wrong reasons, it squanders the opportunity to portray the full extent of what purging looks like on the front lines.
As a reminder, it's the year 2023 and the New Founding Fathers of America have instituted one night every year during which all crime, including murder, is legal. It's widely accepted as a reasonable means of getting out all the anger and hatred that can build up over 365 days. Where the first film was confined almost exclusively to one house in an affluent neighbourhood where Ethan Hawke attempted to protect his family from those purging outside, the sequel shifts its focus to the more vulnerable folks dwelling in poorer urban areas.
It's there we meet Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), a couple in a strained relationship whose car breaks down just as the purge is about to start. We're also introduced to Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and Cali (Zoe Soul), a mother and daughter forced to fend off intruders come purge time. Somehow, they all end up being taken under the reluctant wing of a taciturn but kindhearted man (Frank Grillo) who is just trying to get somewhere to commit one really important murder.
Grillo makes for about a fourth or fifth-rate Liam Neeson, blessed with the same uncanny ability to shoot or fight his way out of any tough spot but lacking what Neeson possesses in the natural charisma department. As he attempts to guide the group towards safety, there's barely time to develop any of their characters between the narrowly avoided brushes with death that lurk around every turn.
A number of questions arise while watching a film like this. Was there a vote to find out if people were interested in having an annual purge? Isn't it incredibly awkward the day after everyone's purged and you start swapping stories about all the carnage that went down last night? Who cleans up the mess afterwards? Why is The Wire's Michael K. Williams relegated to playing the cartoonish leader of an anti-purge movement? Is returning writer/director James DeMonaco trying to show what it would be like to merge Eli Roth's grisly sensibilities with the Occupy movement? And, seriously, people voted "Yes" on the purge then?
It's obviously not meant to be high art and there are a few cheap thrills along the way, but this is the sort of derisible trash that is best enjoyed at home with some friends, where you don't have to hold in the wisecracks and you can all be purged of them together.