Writer/director James DeMonaco seized the attention of film fans last summer with the darkly alluring premise of The Purge, earning an unpredicted $34 million domestically on its opening weekend. Logically, a sequel was born, bearing the challenge inherent to every successful film’s sequel: topping the first one. For DeMonaco, this wouldn’t be too difficult. The Purge followed only one, well-off family, locked up in their home, leaving the rest of the grisly purging world unexplored.
The Purge: Anarchy takes us there – to downtown Los Angeles over the 12-hour course of an Annual Purge night. The film opens with three sets of characters whose stories intersect quickly. There’s fiscally struggling mother Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and daughter Cali (Zoë Soul); separating couple Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez); and lastly, soul-cleansing, vengeful Leo (Frank Grillo). These five characters find themselves on the streets for radically different reasons, but they promptly form a desperate alliance.
Leo falls naturally into the leader role, and though the rest of the group unanimously considers him morally ambiguous, they don’t have much of a choice. Plus – he’s got guns. A lot of guns. They make their way from skirmish to skirmish, flattening their bodies against buildings and scampering through alleyways, and are witness to the merciless purgers, the unfortunate victims and a group of purge-opposing rebels inspired by their enigmatic leader Carmelo (Michael K. Williams).
It’s the sincerely unsettling idea that people would – given the chance with no legal ramifications – kidnap, torture, and murder the defenseless, that makes the entire concept of “the purge” terrifying, and while watching the characters in the first Purge film fall potential victim to the holiday was scary, The Purge: Anarchy really pushes and exploits that anxiety. There is no shortage of imagery of the homeless, the impoverished, or the downright unlucky being butchered – just in the background of what is going on with our main characters.
These minor details keep the fear consistent in The Purge: Anarchy, holding together the rest of what is an overpopulated film, with too many characters and too many locations to get particularly invested in any one story. After the exposition, the film seriously drags in essentially the same downtown setting, but once the gang is chaotically moved from one scenario to another, the simplicity of the beginning becomes a welcome memory.
The third act introduces a beautifully twisted notion somewhat reminiscent of Hostel, in what could be its own successful Purge sequel if fully fleshed-out. Some late additional characters are added to the mix, with appropriately lurid costuming and flashy smiles. The fate of our leads takes a garishly perverse turn for a brief bit, providing an extra bubble of air for the fizzling-out film towards its ending.
Unfortunately the stamina just isn’t there anymore by the end of the film which suffers from a case of too-many-endings. The resolutions just keep coming, some more twisty than others. Surely, twenty minutes could’ve been cut from the film by removing one of these finales, one of which feels lazily spoon-fed as a character explains a bunch of ideas the audience should be able to simply infer.
The Purge: Anarchy accepts the challenge of how crazy it could be, and it doesn’t hold back. While DeMonaco feeds the desire for madness, truly shooting for “anarchy,” he just tries to add too much. Likely, the sequel will perform similarly to the first at the box office, leading to a third film in the franchise. Why not save some of those ideas for next time?
The Upside: The disconcerting idea of an annual “purge” is embraced fully here; a suspenseful theater experience with an acrid aftertaste
The Downside: Too many characters, too many places, and just too many endings
On the Side: The night depicted in The Purge: Anarchy happens exactly one year after the night in The Purge: 7 p.m. on March 21 to 7 a.m. on March 22.