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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » The Purge: Anarchy
The Purge: Anarchy
Universal // R // July 18, 2014
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted July 18, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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Horror fans of the world must be starving, since 2014 hasn't offered many features in the genre. Even though we have been aware that a sequel to last year's The Purge would be hitting cinemas, only a very select few viewers enjoyed the original. While it sported an intriguing premise, the execution was largely lacking. A perfectly wonderful opportunity was wasted by turning a potentially intense open world film into a generic home invasion flick. We were kept within the confines of one house, when is all we wanted was to explore the streets during this violent night. Perhaps writer/director James DeMonaco decided to go back to the drawing boards and fix what was broken, but it seems as if he's finally giving us what we wanted from the start. However, is it enough to repair the disastrous first installment?

The annual Purge, where all crime is made legal for 12-hours, is once again about to commence. Fate places a mysterious man (Frank Grillo), a couple by the names of Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), and Eva (Carmon Ejogo) and her daughter, Cali (Zoë Soul), on converging paths. While they each have their own motivations, each member of this group ultimately has the desire to survive the night in Los Angeles, as they're chased down by a variety of different gangs, who are looking to "let the beast out" in a bloodbath.

The first major difference about The Purge: Anarchy is the tone. Writer/director James DeMonaco has decided to approach this plot with action/adventure overtones with only elements from the horror genre. While there are some jump scares present, this film doesn't seem aimed at scaring audiences. DeMonaco primarily utilizes these sequences in order to provide thrills, rather than chills. The most intriguing question asked of audiences is, what would you do if you were stuck on the streets in the middle of this annual bloodbath? Nowhere is safe, and one cannot trust just anybody. When looking at the characters, it doesn't take long to discover their motives and pasts. These are one-dimensional roles that are simply there to move the story along. You won't find yourself getting emotionally invested in any of them, but that isn't too big of an issue. However, Shane and Liz prove to be fodder characters that receive a lot more screen time than they should, especially when the remainder of the group is busy trying to actually survive.

Once all of the characters are together, it's all about making it to Eva's friend's house. Once there, they will be able to keep safe until the morning. However, they're forced to encounter many dangerous obstacles that could mean their demise at any moment. The more that we learn about some of these members of society, the more social commentary is revealed. How does the annual Purge affect the rich compared to the poor? The Purge: Anarchy makes many interesting points that don't feel so far off from a futuristic Los Angeles. The wealthy would undeniably have an unfair advantage during this violent "holiday," while the poor wouldn't have anywhere to run and find safety. Very few of them would have the resources to even fight back. What about the wealthy individuals who want to experience the Purge without having to venture out onto the viscous streets? While DeMonaco could have explored some of these topics even further, he has provided many captivating concepts that work so incredibly well.

Even though The Purge: Anarchy has some great moments, it also has its troubles. While Eva's motive to protect her daughter is genuine, the remainder of the sub-plots are extremely weak. It all simply feels like filler material, since they needed to make the film a bit longer. The anti-Purge movement is interesting, but it's another concept that doesn't quite go far enough. This is a perfect example of how DeMonaco has come up with unique ideas, but he doesn't always push the envelope. Perhaps it would have been better to spend less time on such lame character motives, and more of the picture's duration exploring how this group is affecting this violent "holiday." There's a lot going on in The Purge: Anarchy, but DeMonaco needs to prioritize what concepts are more important than others, and unfortunately, I disagree with how the time is dispersed between them.

This sequel might not be able to hide behind big names, such as Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey, but the performances work just as they should. Frank Grillo is definitely becoming a bigger name in the industry, and this film proves why. His performance in the role of the mysterious man who leads the fellow protagonists is entirely fitting. He's entirely believable as the insanely cool and brutal fighter. Carmen Ejogo fades in and out in the role of Eva Sanchez. She often comes across as being the most honest out of the bunch, but she isn't quite able to convince us of the more emotional sequences. Zoë Soul does a fine job matching the energy around her as Eva's daughter, Cali. Meanwhile, the blame doesn't entirely fall upon Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez for the portrayals of Shane and Liz, as the material truly doesn't allow them to do much of anything with these roles. They're simply there to make a slightly larger group of protagonists, which occasionally got on my nerves.

Since the film is no longer taking place within such a claustrophobic space, DeMonaco has the chance to go wild with his visual style. The Purge: Anarchy takes on a dark tone, which is surprisingly sparing with the blood. While there are spurts here and there, he keeps the majority of the violence relatively tame when one imagines what it could have been. His restraint makes for some interesting perspective shots, such as traffic cameras, as we watch people across the country kill one another. There isn't anything groundbreaking about the visuals, but fortunately, the masks are a huge improvement over those silly things in the original.

The Purge: Anarchy is definitely several steps in the right direction. While it isn't necessarily "horror-to-the-bone," there are several elements worth noticing. Writer/director James DeMonaco has done a fairly good job at creating a futuristic and violent Los Angeles, and showing how such a "holiday" would affect our class system. This is all done while putting forth an entertaining action thriller that thrives off of its chases, even if there are a few too many of them. Even if you couldn't stand the original, this is a sequel worth giving a chance to. The Purge: Anarchy is an entertaining throwback that works much better than its predecessor. Recommended.

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