I’m not going out on a limb in saying that last year’s The Purge was disappointing. Like everyone else I thought the concept of a Purge movie had tons of potential. My mind raced with the infinite amount of crazy kills the movie would have. Then the movie came out and we got a generic home invasion movie. Despite this the movie did great at the box office and, naturally, a sequel was announced. Not only was a sequel announced but a 2014 release date was set. Needless to say expectations were low. But after a promising trailer and some good reviews I was once again suckered into seeing The Purge: Anarchy. But would it lived up to the potential or would it disappoint like its predecessor?
It’s a year after the last film and the New Founding Fathers are holding another Purge. We follow a man only known as Leo (Frank Grillo), a normal citizen using the night to get revenge on the man who killed his son. His mission takes a sharp detour when he sees a mother and daughter being taken away into a truck. Saving them and a couple whose car broke down this ragtag group of survivors has to make they were across the city on the most dangerous night of the year.
From the get go the movie makes two major changes from its predecessor. The bigger, and more obvious of the two, is that we are not watching a rich family being stalked in their home. Instead we have the common people being stuck in the streets after The Purge has started. Not only does this open the world to crazier menaces but these people are a lot more relatable. Seeing normal people resorting to murder to survive has much more resonance than the douche who profits off The Purge like in the first movie. We’re also introduced to Carmelo (Michael K. Williams) a Malcom X-esque freedom fighter. Throughout the movie we get clips of Carmelo talking about the inequity of rights between the upper and lower class. Not only does this add more to the bigger world of The Purge but it makes for one of the most enjoyable scenes of the movie.
The other major change is taking it from a more horror setting and more of an action movie. More specifically a gritty, 70’s action movie. The pacing and overall feel of the movie has much more in common with The Warriors than the original. This particularly works with Frank Grillo as the leader of survivors. Rarely having a one liner like current action stars Grillo very much feels like a Charles Bronson/Punisher type of hero (a role he actually wants to do). It’s the old school, no nonsense role sorely missed in the current US action environment.
If I had to single out a problem with the movie it would be the fact that the movie leaves a lot of things unaddressed. Like the first movie a lot of cool ideas and side characters are brought up. Unfortunately, like the first movie, they don’t really follow up on these ideas. The biggest best example of this is Carmelo. While his scene is fun it’s a fraction of the actual movie. Maybe it will be expanded in a sequel but for now it feels like a missed opportunity. There’s also the year turnaround in the production. While it works for something like Paranormal Activity I think the movie is a bit too ambitious for it to work. Things like CG blood splatter looked rushed or going with some “best of the bunch” line readings. While bad it’s to be expected with such a quick production and is actually a bit charming in a “this is clearly influenced by exploitation movies” way.
While last year’s The Purge was the surprise hit of the summer this was the movie audiences deserved. With a switch in genre and a change in scenery we get a surprisingly enjoyable thriller. While it fails in its attempts at social commentary we get enough of this universe to leave us wanting more. Hopefully we get to see more of it next time.