Movie Review ~ The Purge: Anarchy

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The Purge is a night where all crime is legal and all hospitals, fire stations, poison control centers and police stations in the United States are closed down for 12 hours.  A year after the events of the first film, five people meet in the streets and try to survive the night.

Stars: Frank Grillo, Michael K. Williams, Carmen Ejogo, Zoë Soul, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Keith Stanfield 

Director: James DeMonaco 

Rated: R

Running Length: 103 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  A year ago most pundits would have predicted that The Internship, Owen Wilson and Vince Vaugh’s Google comedy would have easily topped the weekend box office thanks to the reunion of its Wedding Crashers stars and a prime early June opening weekend.  Then people started getting a look at the movie, deemed it middling, and the buzz turned instead to the darker material of the low-budget thriller The Purge.  Made for peanuts ($3 million dollars) and arriving without much fanfare aside from several well timed social media pushes and spooky promotional material, The Purge surged, making $34 million smackeroos…12 times its budget.

Topping out at $64 million in box office receipts, even if the film ultimately wasn’t that great it was inevitable that a sequel was greenlit before the sun set on that first weekend.   So here we are now a year later being treated to what could be the start of a profitable franchise for Universal Pictures…even if the overall quality of the material hasn’t improved much.

There’s something creatively ghoulish about the concept surrounding The Purge; less than a decade from now America will be largely crime free due to 12 hours one night a year when all crime is legal.  That nasty neighbor who lets his dog pee on your hydrangea?  Hit him over the head with a bat.  The barista that keeps screwing up your cappuccino order?  Slit her throat.  All bets are off, and it’s helped to keep the other 364 days safe.

The first film took place at a house in the middle of a posh gated community and focused on a family’s fight to keep ghastly Purge participants out on the curb.  The sequel, as most horror sequels are apt to do, expands its cast, concept, kills, and setting to only mediocre results.  Instead of simply remaking the cat and mouse game of the original, The Purge: Anarchy introduces new targets navigating their way out of the inner city…aka Purge central.

Returning writer/director James DeMonaco again scores points for turning his film ever so slightly into the morality tale it really is deep down but can’t quite seal the deal when it comes to providing dramatic support for his concept.  He’s scripted rather dumb, unlikable characters that speak mostly in questions (“Who are they?” “Don’t you know?” “How am I supposed to know?” “Weren’t you supposed to know?) that are forced to bond together if they are to survive the night.

While DeMonaco had Ethan Hawke to head the original film, the sequel features the equally appealing Frank Grillo (The Grey, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) as a man that sets out into the Purge night for revenge  but winds up saving a mother (Carmen Ejogo, Sparkle) and daughter (Zoë Soul, Prisoners) from an elite squad picking off residents from the lower income part of the city.  Soon they’re joined by milquetoast couple Zach Gilford (The Last Stand) & Kiele Sanchez fending off mask wearing killers scooping up unfortunate souls for a sinister purpose revealed later on.

The fivesome go on a quest straight out of Adventures in Babysitting as they look for a car to get them out of the city.  Working on bland street sets seemingly constructed for multiple uses by numerous films, there’s not a lot of tension to be had…though there is a dandy of a jump scare early on in the film.  Almost thirty minutes longer than the previous film, the extra time isn’t put to good use as we are witness to scene after scene of bickering within the group and the dodging of multiple bullets throughout the night.

Grillo is a valuable character actor that has yet to really capitalize on his break out star potential, even after turning in some great performances over past few years.  He perhaps gives the soggy material more than it deserves in terms of character development but both he (and his hair) are the clear standouts here.  Ejogo and Soul may be the least convincing mother daughter duo in recent memory, not helped by the fact that both actresses mentally check out before the first reel is over.  It’s hard to say what real life couple Gilford and Sanchez are up to here because they’re assigned the worst kind of drivel dialogue: the self-narration.  Speaking everything they’re doing because DeMonaco couldn’t or wouldn’t find a more stylish way to do it, they stumble through the film as the token white people that are clueless and ultimately helpless.

Though the film starts off strong, ironically it’s when The Purge actually begins that the cracks begin to show and grow with each passing second.  While there’s some intriguing material surrounding the government and their ulterior motives surrounding The Purge, it’s quickly relegated to a marginal subplot in favor of awkwardly moving the five hunted souls from point A to point B.

I’m still hoping this franchise finds a way to make the most out of its concept in future installments.  The premise lends itself well to the kind of isolated story telling that could go on forever…but only if the films find the characters and setting to support it.

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