Review: 4 ways ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ is better than it ever had to be

The second "Purge" features all new scary masks. Credit: Universal Pictures
The second “Purge” features all new scary masks.
Credit: Universal Pictures

‘The Purge: Anarchy’
Director: James DeMonaco
Stars: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

“The Purge: Anarchy” is that classic type of sequel: The kind quickly assembled to profit on a low-budget surprise success before audiences have moved on to the next cheap distraction. The first film came out only last summer, when it surprised many by grossing dozens of times more than its modest cost. That doesn’t mean it’s not rich in other ways. Here are some ways both films are smarter and better than they need to be (and lacking in others):

Here are your good guys in "The Purge: Anarchy": Frank Grillo, Zoe Soul, Carmen Ejogo, Kiele Sanchez and Zach Gilford. Credit: Universal Pictures
Here are your good guys in “The Purge: Anarchy”: Frank Grillo, Zoe Soul, Carmen Ejogo, Kiele Sanchez and Zach Gilford.
Credit: Universal Pictures

They’re actually about something

“The Purge” refers to an annual tradition in a near-future America in which all crimes, notably murder, are legal for 12 hours. The idea is that the populace gets the worst instincts out of their system once a year. Sure enough, crime rates have gone down. But this claim might actually be bull. As suggested in the first and shown in the second, the ones being killed are actually the lower income and homeless. Moreover, both are a critique of bloodlust, including that the viewers may have to watch some bloody mayhem on a screen.

‘Anarchy’ deepens the first

Where “The Purge” took place in suburbia, “Anarchy” heads to the city, where we see how the most vulnerable — i.e., the most poor — struggle through the holiday to survive. Our heroes are a motley crew thrown together by circumstance, forced to work together to survive the streets. They include a waitress (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter (Zoe Soul), a young couple (Kiele Sanchez and Zach Gilford) whose car broke down and an armed-to-the-teeth (but secretly decent) stranger (Frank Grillo) who actually intends to use the day to avenge his dead son. We see more of how the extremely wealthy spend the day, not just hiding behind expensive gates but buying people to kill for fun. The whole cast is new (sorry, Ethan Hawke), including a revolutionary (Michael K. Williams) who spreads dissent about the Purge, aiming to take down the right wing government that implemented it.

Frank Grillo plays the guy who actually does want to purge but who's secretly alright. Credit: Universal Pictures
Frank Grillo plays the guy who actually does want to purge but who’s secretly alright.
Credit: Universal Pictures

It’s a pretty decent genre film

“The Purge” was a home invasion picture. This is a survive-the-streets thriller, not unlike “The Warriors,” “Judgment Night” or “After Hours,” and it’s a not bad one. (It is one, though, that, because it’s portraying Downtown L.A. as an every-city, doesn’t use its locale with any personality.) Our heroes are stuck on streets swarming with homicidal maniacs and gangs of masked monsters, and only one has any skill with a gun. There are booby traps and different kinds of villains, and writer-director James DeMonaco is skilled at creating decent if not too inventive ways to continually raise the bar.

But it’s a bit confused

Shockingly, the first went all the way with its critique of bloodlust, even denying viewers the chance to see all the baddies gorily vanquished. This one indulges that desire a little bit more. Grillo’s hopeful-avenger is handy with dispatching baddies, and there’s even a scene where we’re fully nudged to cheer as our heroes turn the tables on a legion of would-be assassins. Ejogo and Soul’s characters are on-hand as the resident tsk-tsking pacifists, forever begging their armed savior to not give into vengeance. But “Anarchy” only sides with them to a point, often giving into genre thrills at the expense of a more nuanced message. It’s still on-point (especially for a Hollywood product) about low-income communities in wealthy cities, but it seems to worried that if it doesn’t give the audience some head shots it will seem like a killjoy.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


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