Writer/director James DeMonaco’s The Purge was one of those flicks that came out of nowhere and impressed me (and its financial backers, given its surprise box-office success) last year, so it’s actually good to see a sequel not only come out, but come out so soon after the original, given that DeMonaco is still at the helm and probably hasn’t had much time to second-guess what made his first film work and is therefore still sort of on the same “creative hot streak,” so to speak, that started this whole ball rolling — and now that The Purge : Anarchy has met with essentially the same strong response at the nation’s ticket windows that its predecessor did, odds seem pretty good that a third installment will be out by roughly this time next year, and as long as DeMonaco remains in the director’s chair, I’ll be there for that one, as well.
Yup, as if you couldn’t guess by now, I enjoyed the second chapter in this safe-to-now-call-it-a-franchise quite a bit, not only because it builds upon the unpleasant socio-political ramifications of the first, but takes the action — quite literally — out onto the streets, and away from the gated suburban subdivisions of the original, which results in something of a loss in terms of the claustrophobic atmosphere the prior movie had, sure, but DeMonaco more than makes up for that by expanding his story’s scope while deepening it at the same time. The end result is that The Purge : Anarchy is every bit as compelling and immediate as its celluloid progenitor (if not moreso), but the stakes feel even higher this time around.
Most of the proceedings in this sophomore outing take place outside, on the decidedly savage streets of an unnamed American city on the night of the sixth annual “all laws are suspended” shindig known as the titular Purge, where a series of accidents of fate have brought together a rag-tag group of wannabe-survivors under the tenuous and unwanted (at least as far as he himself is concerned) leadership of a guy named Leo who was apparently a military or police sergeant at one point and is playing it pretty close to the vest as to why he’s out and about on the most dangerous night of the year. His charges consist of a newly-homeless mother-daughter team (played by Zoe Soul and Carmen Ejobo, respectively) and a couple at a — let’s call it transitional — stage in their relationship whose care broke down (portrayed by Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez). All the various players do right by their characters, but it’s Frank Grillo who really shines as Leo — he’s got natural “leading man action hero” charisma and bad-assness to spare, to the extent that I honestly have to wonder why he’s never been given center stage like this before.
Rounding out the cast is Michael K. Williams as Carmelo, a Black Panther-type urban paramilitary guerrilla who is the unofficial head honcho of a growing anti-Purge, anti-New Founding Fathers resistance movement. Carmelo’s doing his level best to educate the public to the fact that this whole nightmare scenario is basically the Dead Kennedys’ “Kill The Poor” come to life, and while he only appears in one scene as himself (so to speak), video images of his revolutionary (and entirely sane) message make their presence felt at several intervals throughout the course of events here.
Also figuring into the ebb and flow are a “safe house” that turns out to be a whole lot less safe than anticipated, roaming armored battle-trucks cruising the streets for easy pickings, hard financial realities that force loving parents to sell themselves to the economic upper-crust as human sacrifices in order to earn enough cash to support families that they will never see again because, hey, they’ll be fucking dead, a nauseating “victim auction,” and, finally, a “most dangerous game”-style human hunting scenario. All fairly compelling, dramatic stuff that DeMonaco and his no-name cast bring to life with considerable aplomb.
Beyond the well-realized and tense horrific action, though, it’s in the area of drawing obvious parallels to the real world that The Purge : Anarchy stands out from the crowded genre pack. I hope I’m not blowing anyone’s illusions of how the world actually works here too much, but despite the fact that outlets such as Fox “news” will scream “class warfare” every time somebody proposes hiking the top income tax rate by a couple of measly percentage points, it’s the rich — specifically the astronomically rich — that have been waging (and, sadly, winning) a very aggressive sort of slow-burn class war against the rest of us for decades now. What? You thought all those public service cutbacks, welfare and unemployment benefits trims, reductions in public education spending, spiraling student loan and health care costs, and busting up of unions was just a coincidence? At the same time massive corporate tax breaks are touted as being the “solution” to our economic woes? Oh, have I got a bridge to sell you.
The Purge : Ananrchy, like its fore-runner, simply removes all of the intentionally-choreographed pretense obfuscating these issues in the world today. This is precisely the sort of scenario that the ruling elites want — they just don’t have the balls to come out and hack you to death with a machete themselves, and would rather have their paid lackeys in government do the job for them by killing us all off on the installment plan. That DeMonaco is managing to get away with laying their scheme this bare is pretty cool — but then, I’m sure the reason our ruling corporate overlords don’t have too much objection to this is because they own the studio that’s raking in the bucks off these flicks, so hey, it’s all good with them.
My only real problem with this film, truth be told, is its title — the vilification of anarchism, and even of the concept of anarchy itself, is getting pretty tedious, and it strikes me that if folks really understood that anarchy means a society not just without government, but without bosses, rulers, or power over others of any kind — be it governmental, corporate, religious, you name it — we might come to see it as a potential solution to the very real socio-economic “purge” that is going on around us. I admit that’s a pretty small bone I’m picking, though, and that beyond that, DeMonaco is to be congratulated for producing yet another tightly-paced, fraught-with-peril-at-every-turn horror/thriller/sci-fi/action movie hybrid that has the added advantage of actually being amazingly relevant. Definitely a very strong contender for the title of summer’s best movie.