[ Director: James DeMonaco; Screenwriter: James DeMonaco; Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoë Soul, Justina Machado, John Beasely, Michael K. Williams; Running time: 103 minutes; Certification: 15 ]
Enjoy your annual purge… Something tells me this will be as much a reality as fiction in the coming years with the smell of a franchise in the air. There was always going to be a sequel to James DeMonaco’s The Purge, of course, after it introduced an idea that begged to be expanded upon. Released only last year, the film portrayed the bleakest of futures where America has “solved” its crime problem by introducing an annual purge which allows people to release their pent-up aggression by committing any crime they want in a twelve hour window. I spoke in my review about how ludicrous the idea really is, and that it would never in a million years work if implemented. Those reservations remain in this ante-upped sequel where everything is bigger, louder and more violent, but like before they remain only a glancing afterthought – as an idea for a film, it’s still brilliant.
Anarchy improves on The Purge in pretty much every aspect by dropping us right into the middle of the anarchic mess of the city on purge night, rather than confining us to a suburban home like before, where we got an idea of what was going on but were largely sheltered from the bigger picture. This time we actually see what kind of carnage takes place on this unholiest of nights where there’s no shelter and nowhere to hide…and it’s scary. DeMonaco has done an excellent job in creating a palpably unsafe atmosphere, which affords Anarchy the chance to have some genuinely creepy moments, rather just tense ones. From the Hostel-esque idea of the rich buying the poor to murder as they please, to a masked gang following a helpless couple home moments before the Purge begins, evoking the idea of a Komodo Dragon infecting its prey with a bite and following it until it falls, it’s all deeply unsettling.
Beneath the anarchy, there’s much being said about society. It’s an allegory to population control, a giant f*** you to “the 1%”, a mockery of America’s gun fascination. If the line, “f*** your money and f*** the purge!” didn’t make it obvious enough, not much else will. There reaches a point where it almost becomes too over-zealous, too ridiculous, in a particular sequence involving a group of wide-eyed, maniacally smiley rich people with an unquenchable blood lust. I found myself losing belief at that point, but it just about gets away with it because, at the end of the day, that’s the essence of the film. It’s showing a nation devolving into chaos through misguided belief.
The characters are an all-round improvement on the first film; more developed and more interesting with more to lose. Certainly it could do with more Ethan Hawke, ’cause he’s great and should be in everything, but Frank Grillo fills the void like a boss. Unfortunately, despite that, the film is marred somewhat by some incredibly annoying characters. It’s nothing like on the same irritating level as the kid from the first film who is literally the cause of every bad thing that happens, but it’s the standard horror movie cliché where characters just do stupid stuff for no reason, like constantly talking and making noise when it’s imperative to remain quiet, or falling down while being chased and simply refusing to get up because they’re too busy gawking at pursuers.
If there’s a more unsettling vision of the near future, I don’t want to hear about it. Anarchy isn’t a perfect film, and it certainly looks on the surface like a case of violence for the sake of violence, but actually it’s a rather rare breed of horror/thriller that manages to unnerve its audience while saying important things – albeit saying them in very extreme circumstances.