Genre: Action, Horror, Thriller
Directed by: James DeMonaco
Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez
It’s hard not to be a little disconcerted by our species’ insatiable thirst for blood and violence. Especially given Hollywood’s depiction of what’s to come. Take James DeMonaco’s not-too-distant future, which promises a world very much like this, but with unemployment and crime levels at all-time lows. ‘That sounds great’ you say, but what if DeMonaco told you that such low levels of delinquency were only possible because of a yearly ritual in which all crime is legalized for 12 hours?
It’s this idea that once more bubbles at the surface of the writer/director’s sequel to his box-office breakout from last year. Set a year after the last Purge, Anarchy takes us from the perceived safety and security of a gated community and onto the mean streets of LA. Here two groups of people, a troubled couple (Zach Gilford & Kiele Sanchez) and a mother & daughter (Carmen Ejogo & Zoë Soul), find themselves stranded outside as the Purge commences. Thankfully, a former police sergeant (Frank Grillo) who doesn’t appear to have a bloodthirsty appetite is on hand to help them survive the night.
Having failed to deliver a film befitting of what is quite an interesting idea the first time, DeMonaco puts much more effort into his swing here. By opening up the setting, he finds himself able to craft a thriller that packs a much greater punch. Throughout, DeMonaco is careful not to rely too heavily on blood and guts for shock value, allowing the influence of the concept to run wild over our imaginations and fuse the film’s atmosphere with a menacing quality that effectively augments the fast pace.
This is also a far more successful examination of America’s bloodlust. Having been a pervading element that he struggled to address in the original, here the director focuses his spotlight on the savagery of modern society. What he illuminates is a waking nightmare where the poor and defenceless find themselves hunted like animals on the streets, before being auctioned off and then forced (in close resemblance to a certain Young Adult saga) into an arena where they’re stalked and murdered for the entertainment of an observing higher-class audience who consider such barbaric actions to be a God-given right that will cleanse their souls.
Unfortunately, this is still not the indelibly haunting horror DeMonaco would hope it to be. It’s still a struggle to get your head around the surplus ideas of how the Purge contributes to low crime and unemployment rates. The dialogue sends shivers down your spine for all the wrong reasons, and the character arcs are maddeningly generic. Performances are routinely passable, with Michael Kenneth Williams acting as a notable highlight. But Zach Gilford only just about manages to muster the emotional complexity of a plank of wood.
Anarchy’s biggest wound though is DeMonaco’s inability to get a firm grip on what he wants to say. The ulterior motives behind this annual night of butchery are half-heartedly hinted at, but remain a mystery the writer/director seems to be struggling to solve. Don’t worry though, because from the final lines it looks like this is a series that’s set to run and run. And judging by this superior entry, that may not be the bleakest future possible.