Last year’s The Purge was a taut yet flawed home invasion thriller with overtones of horror, satire, all underpinned by a thought-provoking premise. In the near future, crime and unemployment are almost non-existent, largely thanks to the Purge: an annual event in which all laws are suspended for 12 hours. During that time, America’s populace can vent its darkest desires – and as the populace takes out its frustrations on itself, its will to rebel against an oppressive regime is handily depleted.
The Purge: Anarchy, again written and directed by James DeMonaco, expands on that premise, with a higher budget and a larger canvas to match. Where the ultra low-budget Purge 2013 was all claustrophobic interiors, with Ethan Hawke’s dodgy security hardware dealer and his family trapped in their own house by masked maniacs, Anarchy takes us out onto the mean streets of Los Angeles for a more satisfying night of State-approved mayhem.
The roster of characters is also expanded. Just before the annual Purge begins, we’re introduced to waitress Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her teenage daughter Cali (Zoe Soul), holed up in their downtown apartment. There’s bickering young couple Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) whose car suddenly breathes its last at the worst possible moment. And finally Frank Grillo’s nameless, laconic tough guy whose car boot bristles with heavy weaponry.
What begin as three separate plot strands quickly intertwine once the lights go down and the guns come out. As cars burn and chaos reigns on the streets, this disparate group of people have to work together to survive until the next morning, either by searching for a place to hide or by fighting back with the few weapons at their disposal.
If the original Purge bore a passing resemblance to John Carpenter’s classic Assault On Precinct 13 (interestingly, James DeMonaco wrote the script for the 2005 remake), The Purge: Anarchy plays out a little like another Carpenter prime cut, Escape From New York. There’s the violence on the streets, the wide streak of darkly cynical, post-Watergate scandal humour, and finally Frank Grillo, whose grizzled anti-hero is like Snake Plissken, The Terminator’s Kyle Reese and the Old Testament’s Moses all rolled into one. Grillo, an underrated actor on both film and TV, is a highly effective lynchpin, too: capable, charismatic, and with a dark edge that is pleasingly hard to read. Why was he out in his car during the Purge anyway? Can the rest of the group really trust him?
DeMonaco had less than a year to write and shoot Anarchy, and this occasionally shows in the overwrought and on-the-nose dialogue (“For those unleashing the beast, happy cleansing”). But he clearly enjoys letting his imagination run riot, and the run-and-gun feel of the lighting and camerawork adds to his film’s tough, street-level feel. Anarchy fulfils the sequel remit of being bigger, louder and more violent than its predecessor, yet there’s also a bleakly comic, intelligent mind at work beneath the action: the mid-section’s unrelenting pursuit through benighted city streets gives way to a final third that is unexpected, grimly funny, and exciting.
DeMonaco balances his ingredients far more effectively this time, and Anarchy feels like a much more assured mix of violence, horror overtones and satire. It’s primarily an action thriller, certainly, but there are disturbing masked killers straight out of a horror movie (who recall several characters in Rockstar’s controversial videogame, Manhunt), religious people with machine guns going crazy on rooftops, and ominous-looking black trucks rumbling through the streets.
Amid all the gunfire, Anarchy takes its own wild pot shots at the banking crisis, the media, gun culture, and the division between rich and poor. Like Carpenter’s Escape From New York or They Live, there’s a scathing message to be found about the exploitation of ordinary people by those in power.
Early on, The Wire’s Michael K Williams turns up in a ranting performance as a bespectacled freedom fighter (“There’s more of us and we’re more pissed off!”), and his turn sums up The Purge: Anarchy as a whole: angry, grungy, and trashily entertaining.
The Purge: Anarchy is out on the 25th July in UK cinemas.
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