Despite all the hatred surrounding James DeMonaco’s original home invasion thriller, I ended up giving an approving nod to The Purge based on tight, tense horror featuring a psychotically hypnotic twist. People ranted and raved about how the movie missed a major opportunity by caging all purging in a barricaded house while chaos presumably erupted outside, but thanks to a limited budget that showed tremendous profits, The Purge: Anarchy was greenlit, and DeMonaco embraced his dystopian America in all its pulpy, purgin’ glory.
But what about those horror fans who actually dug Ethan Hawke’s last stand? Where The Purge disappointed adrenaline junkies that were expecting some bloodthirsty insanity, this year’s sequel does the complete opposite by erasing all moments of horror in favor of gritty, 80s style action. These two films couldn’t be anymore tonally different, but will enough jaded viewers take another chance on DeMonaco’s sequel? Actually, more importantly, will horror fans feel slighted by this momentous shift?
Years after The Purge’s inception, many citizens now view this barbaric night of murder, mayhem, and savage ferocity as their national right, becoming desensitized by an overload of torment. Despite so many souls finding entertainment on America’s most dangerous night, a few lost bodies find themselves outdoors with no intentions of purging after the government sounds their commencement horn.
Leo (Frank Grillo) is not one of these unprepared bastards, taking to the streets in an armor-plated Dodge Charger filled with weapons, but the man with a mission soon finds himself distracted by these wayward purgers who are obviously out of their element. Becoming a protector of sorts, Leo trades his services for resources that can aid in completing his vengeful quest before the night is over, but this becomes even harder once the rich start playing unfairly. Those who can afford safe purging take advantage of the poor, and unfortunately for Leo, his band of victims becomes an easy target. Thoughts of revenge quickly shift to survival instincts, with every second becoming a more formidable struggle. Can Leo protect his unlikely crew AND complete his quest before The Purge ends?
Let’s first talk about Frank Grillo. This is a macho man entering his 50s who only now is catching fire, but what a surge it’s been for the wily veteran. Joining the ever-popular Marvel universe as Brock Rumlow aka Crossbones, and recently signing onto Patrick Hughes’ remake of The Raid: Redemption, The Purge: Anarchy doesn’t ask for beautifully choreographed fight sequences or Oscar winning character development. Grillo embodies a tactical bruiser with some badass gear, playing a man who needs few words to get his point across. Without making his mission too mysterious, Grillo’s path to vengeance isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but the actor’s stoic nature lends more of an action-hero feel that one might find in early Mel Gibson or Charles Bronson films. Grillo offers a more “every-man” physicality, which actually enhances a brawny performance that features a stern, not overly muscle-bound man rocking and rolling in the thick of The Purge’s main event. He’s no Crossbones here, but a more mindful approach showcases another winning character during Grillo’s recent ass-kicking hot streak.
In opening The Purge: Anarchy like Pandora’s box, DeMonaco doesn’t only unleash masked assailants and gratuitous violence, but also a socio-political class struggle between the wealthy purgers and their poorer victims. The Purge attempts these undertones through Ethan Hawke’s purge-proofing company, as poverty-stricken families can’t afford such lavish security, but DeMonaco dives into dangerous waters this time around. Political corruption becomes a bit of a Whack-A-Mole game, repeatedly bopping viewers over the head with Wall Street fat-cats, rich snobs, and zany conspiracies about the eradication of lower citizens during the Purge’s grace period – most of which are true. All the righteous preaching doesn’t exactly bolster The Purge: Anarchy or unlock grand revelations, though, instead weighing down gun-fights and tension with characters stammering on like homeless lunatics instead of Purge-fearing citizens. Anarchy becomes a tad too satirical and preachy for its own good – until Michael K. Williams busts in.
Carmello, Michael K. Williams’ rebel leader, is a bit of B-Movie heaven. Such a character spends most of his time plastered on TV screens as an alluring talking head, urging the needy to fight back against governmental attacks, but once he kicks the door down and makes his presence known, we instantly fall in love with Carmello. Of course, like any lovable bit character, he’s gone before you can say “Malcolm X,” and we’re left craving more rebellious uprising. He’s perfectly set up for sequel fodder, a movie I’d watch in a heartbeat, as it’s hard to ignore how much commanding respect Williams earns with minimal screen time – but I can’t help feeling royally gypped by his minimal inclusion. Had Grillo run into Carmello halfway through the movie, forming an undeniably righteous bond, The Purge: Anarchy would have been a COMPLETELY different movie, and (what I assume would be) a better movie for it.
Instead, The Purge: Anarchy becomes a blend of The Running Man and any wackadoo government conspiracy movie ever made, still refusing to grasp everything The Purge has to offer. With such an immersive, dense world, DeMonaco has SO many different directions to explore, and I honestly feel as if people unfairly complain about only what they don’t have. The Purge didn’t have enough action, and I guarantee you voices come out of the woodwork complaining The Purge: Anarchy doesn’t have enough horror. DeMonaco’s newest film reminds us of Death Race mashed with the video game Manhunt, but I sadly feel as if its sole purpose is to “make up” for the “missed” opportunities of the original – an original I believe carried a much weightier, affective story.
Then again – why whine about what we don’t have? We’re a generation of “Have Nots,” and in an attempt to view the glass as half full, The Purge: Anarchy is pretty damn fun at times for a throwback exploitation flick. Does the political commentary possess enough gravity to be the true core of DeMonaco’s film? No, all other subplots fly helplessly off-kilter as overcompensation kicks in, but that inherent chaos admittedly becomes fun as Grillo plays a savage version of Robin Hood who instead of stealing from the rich, just f#ckin’ annihilates them. Then, just when all seems lost, BOOM – in comes Michael K. Williams like the fiery leader he is, asserting himself with numerous quotable one-liners. Emotional drama runs thin between a stranded husband and wife, played by Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez respectively, and a stereotypical mother and daughter seeking safety, but Grillo throws everyone over his shoulder and burdens the heavy load like a heavyweight trooper.
The Purge: Anarchy is a surprisingly acceptable bit of mainstream “horror” – horror of course being subject to interpretation – because there’s plenty of devious enjoyment despite what some might call “a faulty story.” Well, ignoring any hardships, what it boils down to is entertainment value, and based on my vivid imagination’s incessant dreaming of future Purge scenarios, I’d say this summer’s sequel hit the spot. Sure, it feels a bit like filler material, enough expansion to hold folks over, but it all runs on burly Grillo power – something Hollywood should get used to.
While The Purge: Anarchy feels like an introduction to something greater, Grillo's old-school action lead kicks ass and takes names - just how we like it.