The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

The key to successful exploitation is to take any idea, no matter how ridiculous, and push it to its limit.  Too often exploitation, instead of showing what is promised, plays a bait and switch.  The concept of the movie may cause controversy, but the actual movie falls way short of what was promised.  That is the problem I had with The Purge.

The set-up is that in the late part of this decade the United States is still officially the constitutional republic it has always been, but a party calling itself the New Founding Fathers has been elected to power.  They promised to make America great again or some such nonsense, and now they control a government that is a fascistic, oligarchical theocracy.  The key is that every March 21st, starting at sundown, all laws are suspended for 12 hours.  There are some rules: can't kill political officials, can't use explosives or nuclear devices, etc.  In every other way, all bets are off.

It sounds like a great set up (and excuse) for a movie full of wanton violence and moral depravity.  Instead, the original Purge gave us a siege movie, with mopey teens and daddy issues thrown in.  Yes, by the time it got to its end, it had something to say about keeping up with the Joneses, but too little too late.  There were much better siege films that came out that same year, and without going through any world-building pretense.

Still, the movie didn't cost much to make, and people were curious.  Although Hollywood won't admit it even though the lesson has been learned many times over, that's the real way to make money rather than chancing hundreds of millions of dollars on people flailing in front of a green screen.  That means a sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, was made in 2014, and a third movie is coming out this year.

It is March 21, 2023, and the Purge is just hours away.  Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) are trying to get home, only to find themselves stranded with a group of masked men following them is the time draws near.  Sergeant (Frank Grillo) arms up and prepares to hit the street for personal vengeance.  Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo), her daughter Cali (Zoë Soul) and her aging father Rico (John Beasley) settle down for the night and try to barricade their apartment as best they can.  Meanwhile, a revolutionary named Carmelo Johns (Michael Kenneth Williams) leads a group trying to end the Purge and the New Founding Fathers' stranglehold.

As the Purge starts, Eva's neighbor Diego (Noel Gugliemi) breaks in to try and rape her due to her refusing his advances, while Rico sneaks out on an errand of his own.  While attempting to fight Diego off, the apartment building is attacked by government soldiers and everyone inside is killed except Eva and Cali, who escape, only to be captured in the street by the soldiers and brought to their boss, Big Daddy (Jack Conley), a heavily armored psychopath patrolling the streets and massacring people with a railgun stored in the back of a semi.  He demands Eva be brought to him.  Sergeant shows up and, not wanting to get involved, suffers a moment of crisis, but reluctantly helps by fighting off the soldiers and wounding Big Daddy.  Shane and Liz also arrive, with the gang of masked kids in hot pursuit.

Thus begins a night of trying to survive as the group is pursued by various groups out to kill them.  Eventually, this leads to their capture by a group of wealthy individuals who capture people off the street and conduct their own hunts, safely indoors.  However, Carmelo, whom the soldiers have ostensibly been looking for, is still at large and has an agenda of his own.  It also becomes clear that the Purge itself is not all the government wants, and they are willing to go to extreme measures to keep control.

As I said before - if you want to do exploitation right (and I'm talking modern exploitation, not just trying to copy the 1970s which was in vogue for a while), then you have to deliver.  The Purge: Anarchy is what the original movie should have been.  While many of the characters (except Sergeant) do not have anything that immediately engages the viewer, that's not the point.  What does a world where this type of activity really look like?  What kind of shape is the city in after 12 hours of people going crazy with no emergency services available?  What are the emotional ramifications?  The Purge dealt with that briefly at the end, but the sequel, while not always answering these questions, leaves some clues.

Also, more importantly, the violence is more where it should be.  Yes, gratuitous violence has its place, and its place is when the government announcer on the television and radio emphasizes murder as being legal for 12 hours.  Big Daddy is an effective villain, much more so than the typical entitled rich people that run the games.  It is obvious that writer/director James DeMonaco has the usual left-wing class warfare attitude, and unfortunately this leads to having to make some heavy-handed comments about the decadence of the wealthy rather than having the main characters trapped between the opposing forces of Big Daddy and Carmelo Johns, with little they can do.  At least the sequence is well-done, even if the social commentary is too blunt.

As for Sergeant, there have been comparisons between him and the comic strip character The Punisher.  I have heard some people say this is the closest they have come to a good Punisher movie so far, even if it was unintentional.  I don't know much about that, but I can say that he is the one character that shows a true dynamic change throughout.  Most of the good guys don't have anywhere to go since they were not intending to participate in the Purge anyway, but Sergeant perhaps reflects the entire nation of the 2020s as he comes to grip with certain revelations himself that are spoken of throughout the film. 

This is definitely a situation of the sequel being the superior to the original.  It still doesn't have much new to say and is not a groundbreaking film in way, shape or form, but it is a great example of modern exploitation cinema.  Expect this to show up on cult favorites lists in another few years.

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)
Time: 103 minutes
Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoë Soul, Jack Conley, Michael Kenneth Williams
Director: James DeMonaco


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