One of cinema’s most ridiculous recent premises has done it again. 2013’s The Purge brought in $64 million US dollars on a $3 million budget. Not too shabby. The film starred Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey as the Sandins, who spent one awful evening trying to protect their family from our (futuristic) fair country’s annual night of legalized murder and mayhem. The first installment followed the plight of rich people in suburbia in a home-invasion setting. It was a tense, tightly-drawn movie filled with ludicrous logic, but every character in the movie get exactly what they deserved. The Purge: Anarchy is bigger and, somehow, better. The action moves into the heart of the city (Los Angeles, to be specific) and onto a pulp-soaked adrenaline ride fueled by Frank Grillo. He is magnificent. He’s not too campy and possesses enough of a solid presence to keep the sequel from appearing (too) absurd.
These movies are strictly genre fare, mind you. Don’t expect quality cinema from this franchise helmed by James DeMonaco. This sequel takes place in 2023 exactly one year after the events of the first film. The United States dives into its sixth annual purge where twelve hours of lawlessness helps control crime and stimulates the economy for the whole of the year. It’s a dumb concept from a logical perspective, but this society does “release the beast” with fearsome aplomb.
As with the first film, the sequel does not edge into true allegory territory. This is more of a satire than anything resembling strong cultural commentary. With allegory, one needs a symbolic meaning on top of a literal meaning. The Purge: Anarchy is even more “in your face” than its predecessor. What you see is what you get. And you’ll get a whole lot of violent action in your soft pretzel-chewing face. The first movie’s set up involved the Sandins’ son inviting horror into their luxury home by sheltering a hunted homeless man, which only carried the illusion of safety provided by money. The second film bursts on to the street where merry, ominous bands of purgers looking for release in the form of anyone left vulnerable on the streets. We spend this night with the “have nots” as they fend for themselves and try to survive the night of terror.
Frank Grillo stars as Leo (or “Sergeant,” as he’s known in the credits) the vigilante, who sets off into the night on his own. He’s one of the “good guys” with guns. Leo has prepared well for this evening with an armored car, and he plans on taking revenge for the events of a prior purge. Yet he’s not a complete one-dimensional antihero. Leo witnesses the kidnapping of a waitress named Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her teenage daughter, Cali (Zoe Soul), after they are taken from their apartment. The two ladies are wrestling with their assailants when Leo opens fire. So he ends up feeling responsible for helping them survive the evening. They also pick up a couple (played by Kiele Sanchez and Zach Gilford), who were driving home before the 12-hour purge began. Their car (not accidentally) broke down, and they were stranded on the streets as flocks of bloodthirsty crazies descended. This movie is more vividly violent than the first movie, but it’s not too disgusting (relatively speaking) as far as gore goes.
Race is still a prominent issue in this franchise. Even more exaggerated in this sequel is the battle between the very rich and the working class. A man named Carmelo (Michael K. Williams) leads a group of black anti-purgers (the Black not-Panthers, i guess) who seek to end the reign of the New Founding Fathers. Carmelo and his followers believe that the purge is aimed strictly at terrorizing the working class and poor members of society. They are not incorrect, as we soon realize when Leo and his band of followers fall into a trap set by a gathering of super rich people at an organized purge auction.
This movie is all about the thrill of escaping the chase and features far more action than the first film. You’ll recognize one familiar face, and damn, that is a fun moment. But Frank Grillo is the film’s greatest pleasure. Watching him stalk though this B-movie fun park is like watching Kurt Russell in his prime. Many people would be content to watch Grillo simply drive around in his armored car while firing off rounds from his weaponry. The scenes that unfold around him are a bonus. This movie isn’t “scary” at all, but it sure is thrilling. I found myself gripping my seat’s arms through a few parts of the movie, which is a big deal for a germaphobe and a testament to the action’s arresting moments. The Purge: Anarchy is worth the time of any genre fan.
Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She can be found at Celebitchy.