It should be said straight off the cusp that neither The Purge nor The Purge: Anarchy are great films. The first foray into the world of America’s new Founding Fathers was floored from start to finish with forgettable characters and an indoor locale that didn’t spark the imagination. Anarchy succeeds in ways its predecessor doesn’t yet still fails to stand out as a horror film that’s of much cinematic worth, this is down to the basis of the narrative being completely floored. There are innumerable plot holes in the whole idea of the ‘Annual Purge’ in which the premise for the film leads on and that’s where the fundamentals for nit picking begins with both features.
Anarchy sees the sixth yearly killing spree take place in a United States that is now under the control of sadistic Founding Fathers. What viewers discover in this installment – that wasn’t explored in film one – is the Purge as the governments way of wiping out the countries lower class citizens. Political commentary really is never far away in the feature, from gun culture in America to capitalist powers, there’s a mild serious exploration there that director James DeMonaco is intent on pursuing in order to make this more than just your average horror. Does he succeed? At times yes, but neither films true potential is ever fully realised.
The biggest change between the sister films comes with the changeable locations in the follow-up. Spectators watch as a group of five strangers move together to survive the night and it’s this that propels that narrative into better territory than the original. There are three sets of characters, too. The audience only fully get to grips with one (and barely) but they all share scenes throughout the film that do, at times, lend to a genuine intensity that’s so clearly missing from film one. Having said that, only two of the five main actors have a true on-screen presence and there are so many points in which forced dialogue becomes the overwhelming focus of the run time; this is down to both the delivery (Zach Gilford’s performance is truly wooden) and the poor writing (courtesy of DeMonaco).
Gilford will be known by many for his impressive performance in cult sport drama Friday Night Lights, a series that the actor can be remembered for positively. Can the same be said about his role as Shane in Anarchy? Definitely not.The only impressive names in the entire ensemble are Zoe Soul as Cali and Frank Grillo as Leo who share a father/daughter chemistry that is the only character development that makes its mark on the audience. Michael K. Williams pops up at various points in the narrative as the leader of a resistance group, his presence is welcomed. Williams has an undeniable fierceness that is fully realised in his role here. Director DeMonaco relies on visual scares but there’s only so many times the doll masks cause a reaction (and that’s lost somewhere in the earlier half of the film). Throw in a government official known as Big Daddy who drives around in a monster truck, killing innocents, and a finale in which the wealthy partake in a barbaric Hunger Games style evening, and you’ve got yourself a super violent picture of contemporary America, right?
The Purge: Anarchy made a whopping $119 million – which, considering its $9 million budget, is one hell of a profit – it was also met with a better response than the first by critics. It falls short by some miles of being a well-crafted, sensibly paced and intelligent feature, but it will please spectacle-loving horror fans.