Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
Director: James DeMonaco
The Purge: Anarchy is one of those supposed cultural oddities; a sequel that actually outdoes the original! It is a trend which has enjoyed a significant amount of prosperity so far in 2014 with films such as The Raid 2: Berandal, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 22 Jump Street all generally being dubbed (quite widely) as triumphantly better than their respective movie predecessors.
This sequel however has joined the back of that crowd of films quietly and modestly as the original ‘Purge’movie was not very good. In fact, it was one of the worst films of 2013 despite featuring the dependable Ethan Hawke and hinting at some challenging ideas. It was a film that felt so assuredly about its provocatively ambitious premise as it appeared equally serious about it, even though it never dared to explore its concepts substantially enough leaving many audiences feeling somewhat conned as they point out all of its problems as they leave the multiplex. The Purge was essentially a bland home invasion horror that struggled to replicate the claustrophobic thrills of films such as Panic Room (2002) and Assault On Precinct 13 (1976) (a film also remade by DeMonaco in 2005) and relied mainly on unmoving jump-scares along with the assumption that the image of kids wearing masks playing on a swing is blood-freezingly eerie, when in fact it is not. Or at least it is not in that film. In short, The Purge: Anarchy’s outmanoeuvring of its original can only be viewed as a small victory, you cannot say that it had to bend over backwards in order to surpass it.
For those who are not accustomed with what the titular “Purge” in the film is, it is a totalitarian government-sanctioned twelve hour period where crime is legalised and services are suspended allowing the citizens of America to run amok doing what they want and killing who they want without punishment in order to cleanse themselves of the urge to commit crime – essentially modern twist on the Spartan rituals of Krypteia. You would have thought that this idea could potentially turn the entire country into violent psychopaths but supposedly, the need to keep the poor population at a minimum and the unemployment level down outweigh those risks. At least that’s what this government seem to think.
So far, both films have overlooked many potentially interesting aspects such as what everyday life is like within this seemingly volatile society (with people living next door to what could potentially be the killer of your entire family and all) or how society is supposed to recover before the next “Purge”. At this level, the film promises much but doesn’t deliver the goods.
The film initially introduces us to three separate parties who will all become acquainted as the film progresses and must stay together in order to survive. The first is a couple driving across town whose relationship is all but over, the second is a mother and daughter of Latin-American descent living in a slightly grungy part of town. The third – who at first is certainly the most interesting – is a shady Police Officer who has armed himself to the teeth and has set out supposedly to target a man whose picture is pinned to the walls in his house for a reason that at first a mystery, but proves to be hackneyed when it is finally revealed during a finale that is muddled in its message (murder is most definitely wrong regardless of them deserving it or not, but beating them senseless is fine?).
Saying that this sequel is without a merit or two however would certainly be remiss. ‘Anarchy ’ wisely relocates the plot from the confines of an armoured house into the sparsely populated L.A. night streets of 2023’s annual “Purge”. It’s a wise move as it lets the idea expand into the real world where a whole number of possibilities await and it may even encourage less of the hampering cheap jump-scares due to a more open environ (well, one can hope).
Instead of a horror/thriller film like the first Purge aspired to be, ‘Anarchy’ actually aims to be more of an urban action thriller and for the most part, it works; a shoot-out in a subway tunnel, and a sequence involving the survivors being hunted by the rich for sport are among the best moments. The film also benefits as the city locations lends itself well to the dystopian premise where little things help to lift the verisimilitude such as black-marketeers selling weapons before the night commences, and the introduction of a rebel faction which diametrically opposes the “Purge” (but is unfortunately underexplored). There is even groups of rich upper class yuppies who pay to take part in the “Purge” by buying terminally-ill poor folk and butchering them for the sake of their own “cleansing”. Some of the yuppies even bid on people to kill them for the sport of it. All of these elements do point towards a fully realised idea, but sadly it just never offers enough to sustain its daring premise considering how seriously it takes itself. By the end, you feel as if you have spent nearly two hours with one of those conspiracy theory enthusiasts who yap on so much that you suspect they might be starting doubt themselves.
One could imagine the idea of the “Purge” occupying the narrative in a comic book or a graphic novel; its central idea seems to have that very chutzpah that makes one successful. But as a film, it just does not manage to fill in the aforementioned plot holes and remains irritatingly reductive in its themes. The notion of the government trying to do away with the lower classes is ancient but like the first film, ‘Anarchy’ is so convinced that it is saying something meaningful that it forgets to have any fun. The “horror” elements still fall flat (masked yobs tilting their heads and waving gingerly at the camera is still not scary). Sure some of the action is done well but it never really knocks your socks off, nor is the edge of your seat ever really called into action.
‘Anarchy’ does not suffer a major case of what one would call “sequelitis”, it has at least attempted to broaden its approach from the lacklustre original and despite its many shortcomings and it does manage to maintain audience interest for its duration despite not really having any lasting effect afterwards. It will surely be a lasting franchise (both films have collectively attained well over $150 million in profit on a budget totalling to below $15 million!) so we can surely expect more sequels in the years to come. ‘Anarchy’ has successfully expanded its ideas but sadly not enough; one cannot help but think that the premise has potential for a great movie, but sadly, this is yet to be accomplished by DeMonaco.