Few horror films in recent memory have managed to squander their potential as egregiously as James DeMonacoís The Purge: Despite creating one of the most versatile and volatile concepts in contemporary horror (that all crime is legal for one night a year, and citizens are openly encouraged to commit murder), DeMonaco seemed to drop the ball entirely by delivering a run-of-the-mill home-invasion flick driven by dime-store social commentary about the hubris of the one percent.
Flash forward one year and heís back with The Purge: Anarchy, a sequel that ostensibly takes the criticism of the first film to heart by expanding its scope to include the entire city of Los Angeles. A self-contained story featuring an entirely new cast of characters, it manages to built some palpable tension in the early scenes that find the citizens scrambling for shelter as the countdown to the Purge begins, and even delivers some decent thrills while morphing into something of a pre-apocalyptic Escape From New York (or, perhaps more appropriately in this case, Escape from L.A.). Unfortunately, following through on great ideas doesnít appear to be DeMonacoís strong suit, and the closer The Purge: Anarchy gets to its inexplicable climax, the more the writer/director falls back on ideas that make a home-invasion movie feel like the height of inspiration.
As the countdown to the Purge starts ticking, struggling waitress Eva (Carmen Ejogo) risks her safety by staying late at work to ask her boss for a raise. Later, as she returns home to her elderly father (John Beasely) and daughter Cali (Zoe Soul), bickering couple Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) attempt to make their way out of the city following a frightening run-in with a gang of masked, machete-wielding thugs. While these five people are eager to seek sanctuary from the impending wave of violence about to flood the streets, a lone stranger (Frank Grillo) intent on seeking vengeance for the wrongful death of his son plans to draw blood from the man responsible. Armed to the teeth as he cruises the city in a modified muscle car, he gets sidetracked from his mission when he sees Eva and Cali fighting for their lives against a small army of black-clad soldiers. Against his better judgment, he rescues the pair, only realizing later that Shane and Liz also jumped into his backseat in order to escape a gang that disabled their car and were hunting them through the streets. When the strangerís car is similarly damaged beyond the point of repair, this unlikely group must stick together in order to survive the night. But little do they realize that their nightmare has only just begun.
There are few things more disheartening than seeing a filmmakerís ambition overshadow his or her ability, and in The Purge: Anarchy, DeMonaco proves without a doubt that itís time for him to hand the keys to this franchise over to someone who can capitalize on its undeniably promising conceit. Despite having the wisdom to realize just how much he had limited himself in the previous installment, he simply doesnít possess the writing skills necessary to elevate the material to its full potential. This is especially disappointing since heís obviously capable of injecting interesting ideas into the mix (including a rogue broadcaster intent on turning the Purge against the ìNew Founding Fathersî who created it, and a fleet of semis that seem to be aiding in the genocide of the poor); yet here, as before, the writer/director seems to buckle under the pressure of delivering a story that does the premise justice. Instead of falling back on home-invasion thrillers such as Funny Games and its ilk, DeMonaco retreats this time to the safety of another trope that has cinematic roots reaching back to the early 1930s (and literary roots that run even deeper than that). Of course, looking to the past for inspiration is nothing new in the realm of art, but his staunch refusal to add anything of value to previously explored ideas is a most dangerous trend for a filmmaker who wants to deliver deep statements with his stories.
Not grimy enough to qualify as neo-grindhouse and not smart enough to be effective social satire, The Purge: Anarchy is the cinematic equivalent of a fancy car that wasnít assembled properly at the factory -- a piece seems to fall off with every tiny bump it hits, slowly but surely revealing the shoddy craftsmanship underneath. Meanwhile, despite his best efforts in steering this lemon to a safe point for stopping, star Frank Grillo fails to realize that the air bags were never installed until itís too late. He deserves better, and so does this series.
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- Released: 2014
- Rating: R
- Review: Few horror films in recent memory have managed to squander their potential as egregiously as James DeMonacoís The Purge: Despite creating one of the most versatile and volatile concepts in contemporary horror (that all crime is legal for one night a year,… (more)