By the looks of things, The Purge might be set to become the latest long-running horror franchise. It’s been a few years since Saw finished and there hasn’t been another contender to really take its place until now. Last year the first film took an original if silly premise to spin a movie out of and proved to be enormously profitable. The setup, like Saw, can easily be repeated ad infinitum with a new bunch of characters, it even has an annual conceit built into the story (this ends with a card informing us that there are ‘364 days until the next purge’).
Well if that’s to be the case, The Purge has already bucked one typical trend of horror series. Usually only the first film is any good, and even if there is the occasional decent sequel, it’s still never up to the standard of the original. The Purge: Anarchy on the other hand, is most definitely an improvement on last year’s debut.
The Purge wasn’t even much of horror movie, taking the fun premise that in the future all crime is legal for one night only, and making a relatively basic home-invasion thriller out of it. My favourite part of the first film might even have been the brief opening moments when we see ‘purge cam’ footage of what’s going on outside. Anarchy comes much closer to realise the potential of the set-up.
Returning writer-director James DeMonaco has managed to produce this follow-up incredibly quickly, and with only a slightly higher budget ($9 million on the original’s $3 million) it’s too his credit that the glossy visuals and effects look like they had a lot more money behind them.
Anarchy takes us out onto the street of Los Angeles for purge night, where a vengeful ex-military man Leo (Frank Grillo) winds up accompanying a mother and daughter and a young couple who all find themselves outside against their will. A lot of it plays out effectively like a survival video game, as Leo must negotiate his way through the hostile environment, utilising the weapons and resources he has to fight off a variety of foes. Grillo’s one of those actors I knew I’d seen before but couldn’t quite place, but upon checking realised that I’d seen loads of films he’d been in. He makes for a decent action lead here.
It’s more the little touches that make Anarchy work, the random attacks that occur (including one highlight with a truck-mounted flame thrower) or the sights Leo and co. see along the way that do well in establishing a fully-realised world of The Purge. It does occasionally result in some unintentional hilarity too, such as one moment when a wealthy family, all dressed smartly, all pick up their shiny new machetes to indulge in a bit of post-dinner hacking an old man to death.
Indeed the ‘satire’ of The Purge is thunderingly obvious; it’s poor people who die in the annual purge, while rich people stay safe. It’s about as unsubtle as can be without having a character flat out state “this movie is a metaphor for class warfare”. But hey, it’s not taking itself too seriously, and come its conclusion, it hammers this point in even more with an entertainingly unpredictable detour.
The Purge: Anarchy has a few more issues, while it does on occasion surprise, at other times it succumbs to attempting shocks you can see coming a mile off. A lot of the dialogue could do with improvement, particularly in the more domestic scenes. There’s also a little tonal imbalance, specifically with an early attempted rape scene feeling uncomfortably out-of-place. Compare that with Michael K. Williams’s appearance as a radical underground activist (apparently channelling Samuel L Jackson) that’s a lot more overtly comic.
Like its predecessor, The Purge: Anarchy is not really a horror movie either, the times it tries to add in jump scares just feel forced and unnecessary, it’s essentially a futuristic action thriller. Maybe we should stop calling it a horror series then, but if there’s to be a third entry in the series that can improve yet again, I’d be happy to revisit.