Stuck in a week with nothing good to see, I took a chance on a movie I would never go to if it weren't for this column: The Purge: Anarchy. While the violence was less gratuitous than I anticipated, there was more social commentary than I expected. Unfortunately, however, the world and the critique of The Purge: Anarchy is pretty shopworn, resulting in a mediocre at-best movie.
The Purge: Anarchy takes place in the near future, after the New Founding Fathers of America have taken control of the country, fighting crime, unemployment, and other societal issues with an annual purge: 12 hours in which all crime is legal. While The Purge allegedly serves as a way for people to "release the beast," unleashing repressed aggression so they can be upstanding citizens the rest of the time, really the outburst of violence helps control the population, benefiting the wealthy and privileged by disposing of the poor and undervalued. This sequel focuses on a group of strangers trapped on the streets of Los Angeles during Purge Night, trying to survive as they are hunted by a mysterious and heavily armed truck. Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) were on their way to visit family when a gang cut their breaks, stranding them downtown. Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter Cali (Zoe Soul) are ripped from their apartment by armed men, only to be saved by a stranger, Sergeant (Frank Grillo), also heavily armed and seemingly up to no good. Sergeant takes Shane, Liz, Eva, and Cali under his protection in agreement for Eva taking them to her friend Tanya's (Justina Machado) apartment, where he can get a new car. As they make their way, they dodge violence and encounter the growing resistance to The Purge.
There's an interesting nugget of potential in the way The Purge: Anarchy establishes the temporary legalization of violence as a sneaky tool of oppression. A problem I have with this setup, however, is the way it valorizes violence in a critique of violence. Furthermore, in portraying the way that women and people of color are kept down in this system, it reinforces ideas that they are victims, and white men, the beneficiaries of the system, are also their heroes. It's not a very effective critique, and that attempt at social commentary is the one thing that could really make the movie interesting. In light of its failure, The Purge: Anarchy is just another run of the mill violent action-horror movie. It has its suspenseful parts but it's just not very fresh or engaging. While I did enjoy the strength of character in Cali, a young African American woman who provides the audience with background knowledge about the resistance movement, instead of making her a hero, the movie makes the passe decision to use her as a moral compass for the real hero—Sergeant.
The Purge: Anarchy is the kind of movie that makes me wonder about actors' motives for taking scripts. Zach Gilford, who did such moving work on Friday Night Lights seems wasted on the movie. Zoe Soul, who plays Cali is really good and hopefully continues to get more roles and exposure. For the most part, however, the cast does not have much chemistry, and the characters do not provide a lot of range or depth for the actors. Like the plot, the acting is pretty canned.
For pure entertainment value, The Purge: Anarchy was an okay afternoon at the theater. I was on the edge of my seat and I wanted the characters to survive. Violence can achieve this suspense, however, with or without a plot. In terms of filmmaking or storytelling, The Purge: Anarchy is just pretty cheap. It relies on violence to draw viewers in but does not really do much with their attention. For being movie junk food and stale, off-brand junk food at that, I rate The Purge: Anarchy 1.5/5 stars.
The Purge: Anarchy was written and directed by James DeMonaco. It runs 103 minutes and is rated R for strong disturbing violence, and for language.