Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
2013’s The Purge was a movie that played around with an interesting concept – what would happen if for 12 hours a year, the government legalised all crime? – but that unfortunately failed to capatilise upon it. While moderately entertaining, The Purge was basically just a home invasion movie that used a unique idea to sell itself.
2014’s The Purge: Anarchy, as much a standalone movie as a sequel, delivers what its predecessor failed to; an exploration of what goes on out in the streets on purge night. This time around the plot moves out of the confines of the home and into the urban landscape of Los Angeles, as we follow four individuals who unwittingly find themselves stranded outside as the annual purge commences. Their only hope of survival comes in the form of a mysterious man, who takes it upon himself to lead them through the terror of the night.
This sequel succeeds where the former film failed; it embraces the franchise’s titular event and showcases what goes on beyond the locked down homes of those who are trying to make it through unscathed. The result is quite an entertaining and suspenseful thriller loaded with exciting action.
While it is a very dark film with plenty of instances of violence, The Purge: Anarchy is more in the vein of the graphic action of Punisher: War Zone than it is a full fledged horror movie.
It manages to cover a lot of ground, both literally and figuratively, in showing the extent of the disturbing activities that go on during purge night and the multitude of people who take part; including exploring how participants of different social classes choose to purge themselves. Perhaps the most disturbing instance of this is the way in which the wealthy elite of society choose to take part, doing so in an extremely unsettling “civilised” manner.
This could easily have just been a movie about a group of people out on the streets, stumbling from one violent set piece to the next until the night ends. And that might have worked well as a throwaway horror/thriller. But the plot is actually more complex than you might expect going in. There are quite a few layers to the narrative. There’s even an element of conspiracy thriller to it. The motivations behind the establishment of the purge are explored and the script plays around with ideas of social revolution and secret political agendas.
What really binds the entire plot together though and gives it a sense of focus and direction is Frank Grillo’s enigmatic Leo Barnes. It’s clear from the start that Barnes is a man with an agenda of his own, but also that he’s not your usual, run of the mill, anarchist purger. He is in many ways an archetypal anti-hero. Grillo gives a compelling performance, making you believe that Barnes is a good man who, while using the purge to pursue his own goals, does not necessarily approve of it in general. It is his character that sells this movie as more than a string of random acts of violence and terror.
Aside from Barnes, the film focuses on four other characters. Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul play Eva Sanchez and her daughter Cali, respectively. Ejogo and Soul give solid performances. Soul and Grillo in particular maintain good chemistry by building up a sort of father/daughter relationship as the plot progresses.
Then there’s Shane and Liz, a couple portrayed by Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez. Sanchez was also solid in her role, with Liz demonstrating an admirable amount of growth and development during the course of her arc. As a character, Shane was less impressive, but that was due more to how the character was written than to Gilford’s performance. By and large though, all of the main support characters work within the plot and manage to avoid feeling shoehorned in or irksome.
The movie seems to suggest that the only people who choose to participate in the purge are those with murderous intentions or worse. I have to question how realistic it would be that almost everyone you came into contact with during the purge would be out to kill. It seems to me that there would be just as many, if not more, purgers out to steal and vandalise and commit crimes that do not involve physically harming others.
The plot does not put much focus on any potential criminal activity other than murder and assault and the extent to which it occurs seems somewhat unrealistic. However, this is definitely a movie where suspension of disbelief is essential, even in relation to the titular event alone. It would also be more difficult to create tension if the principal characters encountered only individuals robbing shops or spray painting so I understand the focus on the more sinister possibilities created by the purge. I just question the frequency with which one would encounter them if out on the streets during such an event.
Logic and realism aside though, The Purge: Anarchy is a fast paced, well constructed suspense thriller that delivers on all the promise that its predecessor failed to. It also serves as a dark and gritty action fest with a more interesting and focused story than anticipated, managing to remain well paced and entertaining from start to finish.
Follow @davesimpson1 on Twitter for notifications about new posts.