Would the world be better if there was a holiday each year where all crime was legal for 12 hours?
This is one of the many questions asked by writer/director James DeMonaco in “The Purge: Anarchy”, the follow-up to last year’s “The Purge.” In these films set in the near-future, a new American political party has taken over and come up with the perfect way to clean up the country. Each year, the Purge holiday allows for all Americans to get away with whatever crime they wish. The streets essentially turn into the Old West as citizens “release the beast” during a 12-hour period.
The program is declared successful as poverty has dropped and crime decreased, but what’s really happening is that the rich can afford security measures to last the night while the inhabitants of slums and ghettos wipe each other out. The first film in the series explored the morality of the situation on a small scale. A family is forced to choose between handing over someone being hunted by purgers, basically killing the man, or themselves being attacked by his hunters. “The Purge: Anarchy” delivers the bigger story that most people wanted from the first film. Trapped on the city streets during the Purge, five individuals have to stick together to survive the night as they are chased by murderous gangs and madmen.
In one of his biggest action roles to date, Frank Grillo (“Warrior”, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) stars as a man only known as Sergeant. Of the main cast, he is the only one on the streets during the Purge by choice. While hunting for the man who killed his son, he comes across 2 sets of people that are in need of rescuing: a couple (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) whose car died mere minutes before the Purge began, stranding them downtown, and a mother (Carman Ejogo) and daughter (Zoe Soul) who were forced to evacuate their home after it was invaded by killers.
It’s surprising for a movie like this that all five of these characters feel like real people, as you would normally expect things to go down Resident Evil-style with everyone being a cardboard cut-out ready for a gory death. The only character in the film that really doesn’t work is Carmelo (Michael K. Williams), an underground rebel fighting against the Purge leaders. His character is so laughably bad and cliché that each appearance was followed by an audible, involuntary sigh from my mouth.
The main problem with the first Purge film was that the execution of an interesting story led to disappointment. DeMonaco does much better this time around, but he still tries to explore too many aspects of the Purge’s real-world implications. Instead of developing some of the more interesting ideas, he throws a million things at the wall and lets the audience member decide what to take away. There are ideas about income inequality, the moral decay of society, the untrustworthiness of the government, gun crimes, etc. The film does make a few of these things stick and offers some interesting ideas, though.
Although it has its flaws, “The Purge: Anarchy” does what a lot of great science fiction aims for: take something that seems completely foreign and fictional to us and somehow use that to open a dialogue on issues that we face in the real world.