With Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zoë Soul, Zach Gilford, Michael K. Williams. Written and directed by James DeMonaco. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language. 103 minutes.
Writer-director James DeMonaco has followed exactly the right instincts in crafting THE PURGE: ANARCHY, his sequel to “The Purge” (2013). He’s taken the concept, deepened it, asks a lot of new questions, provides the requisite action, and leaves us wondering what happens next. Not bad for a low-budget thriller set in the near future.
Here he reminds us that the “New Founding Fathers,” who are now running the country, have established an annual rite known as the “Purge.” For twelve hours, police, fire, and other emergency services are suspended and people may go out and murder and commit other acts of violence without consequence. As a result, we are told, crime and unemployment are down, and America is enjoying new prosperity.
The first film focused on an upper middle class family whose home was under siege. Now we’re on the streets. Leo (Frank Grillo) has a specific act of vengeance he intends to carry out that night. Eva (Carmen Ejogo) is single mother who lives with her adult daughter Cali (Zoë Soul) and father. They cannot afford the fancy security add-ons to turn their apartment into a fortress. Then there’s Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), a troubled married couple whose car breaks down in the city just as the Purge begins.
DeMonaco contrives to bring these characters together in trying to survive the night. Leo is the only one who is armed, and what they up against turns out to be more troubling than mere random violence. There’s a truck with a machine gunner taking out anyone he sees. There are heavily armored and masked forces breaking into people’s homes. And then there’s the 1%.
They’re not called that here, but DeMonaco has sharpened his allegory to ask how the wealthy deal with the purge and what they get out of it. Some pay the elderly or the sick to be their victims (allowing them to leave their families money after their deaths). Some skip the idea of paying their victims and simply kidnap their prey off the street for more “refined” entertainment. Meanwhile, the government has an agenda that gets more fully explored here.
The first movie gave us characters who simply accepted the purge as a good thing, but now we see that that attitude is not universal. Cali has been following someone named Carmelo (Michael K. Williams), who is against both the purge and the “New Founding Fathers,” and claims it is way to thin out the underclass while ensuring profits for the elites. His answer seems to be that if this is class warfare, let’s make the most of it.
In other words, this is a movie with plenty of violent action–including a chase through a subway tunnel involving a flame thrower–but that also has a brain in its head. At film’s end, the situation of the main characters have been mostly resolved, but the larger conflict in the society has not. Like “The Hunger Games,” the violent distraction created by the authorities is unravelling and the revolution is around the corner.
“The Purge: Anarchy” isn’t quite as tight as the first one. There’s a few too many shots of people peering around corners and running across streets, but there’s enough surprises in the plot and explosive action along the way that fans of the first film won’t be disappointed. They may even start looking forward to the next one.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.