The first Purge movie featured one of the most idiotic premises I’ve ever seen in a major motion picture, and then compounded that initial logic with a never-ending stream of plot holes and character motivation so implausible these characters may as well not be human. That the film was not cheaply-produced or poorly-made only added to the problem: a film with this level of effort put into it should not be so blatantly stupid.
So this second installment, The Purge: Anarchy, has nowhere to go but up, right? Right. But only to a point. This sequel is unquestionably better than the first, and individual scenes of suspense and action work just fine in their own B-movie way. But Anarchy is saddled with the same dumb premise, a weight that hangs around its neck and eventually drowns it.
That premise, once again, is that once a year, for one day, all crime is legal in the United States. This seems to reduce crime during the other 364 days a year, and – in an idea introduced in this sequel – takes care of population-growth problems, too. Because, logically, you can kill more people in twelve hours than you can in 365 days.
You see, the government sends out their own death squads to wipe out city-dwellers during the purge, because, hey – they may be killing their own citizens, but at least they’re playing by their own rules. Yes, rather than bomb or gas or poison entire districts to rid the country of unwanted inhabitants, the government sends out gun-toting lunatics to take care of them one-by-one. So efficient are these death squads that they spend most of the movie hunting down one person.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. While “all crime” is legal during the purge, all we see is murder, murder, murder. Groups of school kids in masks terrorize the city, but no-one takes the initiative to rob a bank. Heck, commit some cyber-crime from the safety of your own home! No arson, no major drug deals, no bribery, espionage, embezzlement, fraud, or treason. No prank calling. Just murder, death, kill, and the vague threat of rape (no actual rape – that would be too controversial for mainstream entertainment).
The theme, I guess, is that everyone magically becomes a homicidal maniac during the purge: once the clock strikes seven, anyone might be out to get you. I can buy this premise in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or John Carpenter’s The Thing, where it’s an alien virus that causes people to go kill-crazy. Vague government policy? Nah. For all the US gun culture satire, this thing is so far removed from reality it might as well be taking place on another planet.
In any event, with most of the principals from the original film dead (I think), Purge II follows a new group of people during purge night: this time, rather than confined to a single house, it’s throughout the city streets.
There’s single mother Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter Cali, who are attacked by a crazy neighbor and then the death squad and forced to take to the streets. Literally minutes after purge time and they face two completely unrelated murderous threats; how did they ever expect to survive? Then there’s couple-on-the-verge-of-a-breakup Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), whose car breaks down right before the purging commences. Their car breaks down, I kid you not.
While all the purging is going on, there’s also a revolutionary anti-Purge group led by Carmelo (Michael K. Williams) going around. How do they voice their protest? They kill people. No, really, the one thing the government wants them to do. When one of the characters feels the need for revenge, she declares “I want to purge,” and the radicals take her under their wing for some murderin’. We’re supposed to feel, I dunno, good about this? The logic here… I’m at a loss.
But wait! There’s a saving grace in Purge II, and it’s a doozy: Frank Grillo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) as ‘Sergeant’, a one-man army who takes to the streets during purge night for vengeance. The script tells us that he just wants to get from point A to point B to get some very specific revenge, but ignore all that: everything is right in the Purge world when Grillo’s badass is cruising down the streets in his bullet-proof ride, wiping out death squads and protecting the innocent. That’s the film I wanted here, and that’s what I got half the time. Two stars.
If The Purge was director James DeMonaco’s answer to John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (DeMonaco wrote the underrated 2006 remake of that film), then Anarchy is his answer to Carpenter’s Escape from New York. If only someone could just edit the stupidity out of these Purge pictures, they’d have a nifty little B-movie that might actually live up to Carpenter’s films.