When I first became aware of the concept behind the first Purge film, I was intrigued. I believed that the idea of a free-for-all crime night would serve well for a horror or action film. At least, that was before I learned that the entire picture was going to be confined inside one house. While that would not prove to be the first movie’s biggest shortcoming, at the time it felt that the filmmakers were purposely limiting themselves with an interesting premise, comparable to that of Escape from New York.
What I did not expect from the original The Purge was that it would be a grim satire on class and race warfare. For those unfamiliar, the premise of the film is that, to lower the yearly crime rate, American citizens are given one law free night to “unleash the beast”. Strangely enough, no citizens seem to use this opportunity to commit robbery or do drugs; all those who are purging jump right to murder. What occurs during the Purge is that the rich are either fully protected from it, or well equipped to hunt when it occurs. The poor often become victims of the night because they cannot afford the artillery that is often needed to fight or survive.
The first feature centred on a family that, while defending themselves, allowed a poor, black veteran to take refuge in their home. This made them the targets of neo-Nazi WASPs wearing creepy masks. Its political opinions regarding the rich purging those that they deem lesser (in this film, poor minorities), though heavy-handed, was one of the more intriguing aspects of this movie. What brought the movie down, aside from its focused location, was that its opening premise only carried the film halfway. Around that point, the action sequences got less interesting and the whole thing ended with a silly and disappointing twist.
The second movie looks to correct some of those missteps. The Purge: Anarchy places our protagonists in the middle of the urban streets of the city. The closed in feel of the sets makes the city feel a lot smaller than it should, but that’s just a small complaint.
Our heroes are brought together by coincidence. Sergeant Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) is a man out on the streets, equipped for the Purge for some reason that he won’t share. He manages to save Eva Sanchez and her daughter Cali (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul), who are about to be gunned down in the street. He then returns to his car, only to find two more people hiding inside (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez).
If the first movie was a little in-your-face about its class warfare concepts, this sequel slaps you around with them. The film introduces this year’s Purge with Eva’s father selling his life to the rich so that they can Purge in safety, and so that he can give the money to his family. Meanwhile, the film also introduces a group of radical militants led by Carmelo (Michael K. Williams), who are seeking to reveal the injustices that occur because of the Purge. These themes underlie all the events that take place while our heroes run the streets attempting to survive.
One major issue with the film is that there is no central villain or motive to drive the narrative forward. Our heroes want to survive and get off the streets, but attacks can come from everywhere and from anyone. This allows the filmmakers to stage a variety of action sequences and get a few extra ideas off their chests. These include (SPOILERS) military-owned Purging trucks roaming the streets, a death-sport arena held at an annual elite Purging ball, and a family torn apart because of the Purge and infidelity. While having our protagonists jump from one unrelated event to another does allow the movie to show many sides of the Purge and keeps the film interesting, it also results in the whole film feeling a little all-over-the-place.
Aside from that complaint, this film manages to improve upon the first film in almost every other way. It not only lets us see a lot more Purging, but also expands on a lot of the socio-commentary that it alluded to in the first movie. This criticism of capitalist culture is not only the central theme that ties together most of the very unrelated scenes, but is also remains the most interesting aspect of these movies.
The filmmakers are trying to get us to question our own morality while forcing us to examine a system of government that forces people to struggle for survival and superiority. It also makes us confront the fact that people who are already well off are given a huge advantage, standing on the shoulders of those below them. This commentary becomes a lot more obvious in the Purge’s forced “survival of the fittest” scenario, but still rings true for most real life situations. Both movies consistently ask the audience two questions: Does the Purge really refer to purging our evil feelings, or is it a way for America to purge its unwanted? And, if there really was an ‘all- crimes-allowed’ day, would it transpire this way?
It may be a little cheesy and very over the top, but Purge: Anarchy definitely manages to entertain. Thanks to its scattered method of storytelling, certain scenes end up feeling a lot stronger and more memorable than others. On the other hand, because of the way the film is laid out, we get to see more glimpses of this world than one would probably expect to in one movie. While providing a lot more of the action horror that audiences expected from the first film, this movie still manages to be thought-provoking. I did not expect a lot from either Purge movie and, on both occasions, found a lot more than I was expecting. I would not go so far to call the first Purge a good movie but I am definitely willing to say that its sequel is worth a watch.