The Purge: Anarchy

 
Grillo is brillo

 

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

As you may have guessed by my redux review of the original, The Purge: Anarchy was next on my list. As I said, I liked the idea of The Purge, just got a bit frustrated with the execution. Now it’s Anarchy‘s turn, with its promise to widen the scope of the annual purge and not have it devolve into the same “home invasion” bullshit we’ve all seen countless times before.

“Couldn’t find any quotes.”

Purge night 2023. We join a group of five people all with different motivations but share a common goal: to survive. Frank Grillo plays a mysterious man, armed to the teeth with Purge-ready weapons, as he cruises the empty streets with a very specific target in mind. As he makes his way through the city, he rescues mother and daughter Eva and Cali (Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul) and the gang soon pick up two new members in the form of desperate couple Shane and Liz (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) and on the promise of help to get to his target, Grillo’s stranger must get them across town to safety, which turns out to be no mean feat.

People (myself included) complained that the first Purge was too limited, setting the action in one house. Writer-director James DeMonaco clearly thought so too, so now we see entire areas of the city in Purge mode, with patrolling masked thugs and any number of nasty things happening on the streets. It feels like a proper raising of the stakes and that’s to be commended in the “same but different” world of horror sequels. I actually cared a little more for our bunch of survivors this time round. Grillo is definitely the MVP here, playing well, pretty much The Punisher, complete with mobile arsenal and souped up vehicle. He still affords the character some nice humanising moments however, balancing out the cartoonishly badass bits. Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul are the beating hearts of the film, with a genuinely sympathetic back story involving Eva’s elderly father. Estranged couple Shane and Liz are a bit on the bland side, their purpose to be to get to Shane’s sister to inform her that they’re splitting up. Not sure why a phone call wouldn’t suffice, but whatever. Interesting new element is Michael K. Williams’ Carmelo, an outspoken anti-Purge and anti-New Founding Fathers revolutionary who leads an underground army determined to take the NFFA down. He’s good, but isn’t in it much. I suspect his role will increase in the telegraphed third film where it looks like his forces will meet the government head on.

I used the phrase “horror sequel” in the paragraph above, but I used it as this film being a sequel to a horror, not a continuation of the genre. The Purge: Anarchy isn’t a horror film in the strictest sense. It’s an action thriller with jump scares. This may put you off, but let’s not forget how weak the scare sauce was in the first one. It’s evolved into a B movie and a damn entertaining one at that. That’s not to say there aren’t bits that are unsettling. Many scenes are pretty intense. Anarchy is about escalation. There are motorbike gangs, Gatling gun trucks and any number of psychos prowling the streets and it’s fucking great stuff.  We find out more about the New Founding Fathers, but they remain a scary, shady organisation. As with the first, it’s the details that make it work. Camped out snipers on rooftops, traps laid throughout the streets and gangs roaming to pick up stragglers so that rich people can butcher in the safety of their homes. It doesn’t shy away from political allegory either. I mean, when you have a bearded redneck type, clutching a shotgun and screaming about his rights, you know this isn’t the smartest approach to satire, but at least it’s there in some capacity. Like in the original, there are also parallels with the rich/poor divide, which in this film we get to see from the poorer perspective.

“Yeah, I could probably find some, but it’s hot. Fuck you.”

I don’t have many bad things to say about the film. The dialogue is a little sloppy and I could have done with Carmelo’s resistance have had a little more of a presence, but I think that’s about it. It’s hokey and grotty, but it is a B movie after all. I enjoyed it immensely. You can look this film in two ways: 1) it realises the potential of the original’s premise or 2) it’s a damn good Punisher movie that doesn’t feature the “proper” Marvel comic character. I’ve found a new pet franchise to follow. I’m hoping it doesn’t pull a [Rec] (my previous pet horror franchise) on me and go completely off the rails for its third part.

The Purge (Redux)

 

The Purge (2013) (Redux)

Since it came out last year, I’ve softened on The Purge quite a bit. Whilst I still stick by a lot of my original review, I read it back and thought I was a little harsh, considering the things I liked about it. I bought the Blu-ray recently and have actually been looking forward to the sequel a fair bit, so I figured I’d give the original another crack of the whip.

“Decriminalised murder- an outlet for American rage.”

It’s 2022. America is enjoying a new golden age. Crime rates are low, unemployment likewise and the rich are getting richer. This is attributed to a group called “The New Founding Fathers” who introduced the concept of “The Purge”, an annual event in which all crime, including murder, is legal for 12 hours. The logic behind this being that all the events of the Purge act as a release valve for society’s pent-up anger, aggression and violence. Ethan Hawke plays James Sandin, a man who has earned his wealth selling home security to protect people from any harm during the Purge. He returns home to his wife Mary (Lena Headey) and two children Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and Charlie (Max Burkholder) to prepare for Purge night, safely hunkered down behind reinforced metal doors and various other barricades. The trouble starts when Charlie disarms the security to let in a wounded stranger (Edwin Hodge), not realising the consequences. Soon enough, a group of enthusiastic purgers, led by a polite and eloquent man (Rhys Wakefield) arrive and give the Sandins an ultimatum: either give them the wounded man so they can exercise their constitutional right to “release the beast” or have their defences torn down and suffer the consequences.

I’ve seen people slate the basic idea of The Purge, calling it “unrealistic” amongst other things. It’s a dumb criticism to make, really. Is Star Wars realistic? Is The Dark Knight? No, but they set up their own rules about how stuff works in their universe and they run with it. Sure, the idea of the Purge being voted into any kind of law, let alone working as a way to boost the economy and improve the lives of average people is ludicrous, but at no point does the film feel like it’s just about one cool concept (and it is a cool concept, fuck you) regarding legalised murder and government approved lawlessness. It has something to say, albeit occasionally muddled. I love the idea that the Purge may have just been a way to deal with the poor and keep the rich in the money. Think about it- the rich can afford super-swanky home security (as well as better weapons should they want to actively participate in purging) whilst the poor are pitted against each other, pretty much becoming a “problem” that fixes itself. Admittedly, the way these undercurrents are conveyed is almost insultingly simplistic, with numerous news reports expositioning the shit out of the situation. It may be dumb, but at least it has something to say and has a few unique concepts of its own, unlike 90% of the crap out there.

So, great central idea with a surprising amount of satire and social commentary. Good. What else? Well, the opening 20 mins are decent, if (if you ignore certain things like clunky dialogue and contrived set-ups, but I’ll get back to those) building dread for the Purging to come. It does a good job of world building, even including neat details like displaying a specific blue flower outside your home to show your support for the Purge. As I mentioned before, the Stepford feel to the neighbourhood is a nice touch, complete with uncanny valley-eque residents with fixed, unconvincing smiles. I still love the opening CCTV montage set to Clair De Lune. The cast are a mixed bag, but Rhys Wakefield is the standout. His “Polite Leader” is a creepy villain, completely immersed in his constitutional right to murder and maim. If there’s one trope I have a weakness for, it’s when a bad guy shoots one of his allies just because, in this case because one of his lackies forgoes his polite protocol. Lena Headey also does well with a severely underwritten role and gets a nice moment of dark humour near the end that is genuinely funny.

The rest of the film doesn’t fare as well. Zoey is a typical, eye-rolling teenager that doesn’t bring anything to the party but her kinky Catholic school uniform. Worst character by far though is the young son, Charlie. He’s an important element to the story as he’s just the right age to start thinking for himself and becoming aware of the horror of the Purge, whereas the rest of his family have seen it happen many times before, become desensitised to the Purge and accepted it as a necessary evil over the years. He’s our way in as an audience, so its a shame that the writing really doesn’t do him any favours. The contrived nature of the opening scene where he has a burnt baby doll RC tank, really clunks like a motherfucker. It’s so obvious that this bit is just excusing stuff that happens later. Same with his weird obsession with wearing a heart-rate monitor and checking his vitals regularly. These things are promptly forgotten about until just the right moment when they become suspiciously useful.  It’s lazy stuff.

The biggest problem I (and a lot of other people) have with The Purge is the fact that after a decent premise and promises of a brutal but interesting world, they stick to one location and have it devolve into just another home invasion movie. Instead of taking full advantage of the concept, the Purge night suspension of emergency services is used merely as a way to avoid the “they cut the phone lines” explanation as to why the cops aren’t showing up, which is disappointing. It fails as a horror, too, quickly changing tact from creeping dread to easy jump scares. Plus, it features a cardinal sin of tension resolution during a frantic grapple- the “baddie” getting shot by someone off-screen. I’ve always felt cheated when that shows up in films and The Purge does it multiple times, robbing us of a proper and hopefully wince-inducing kill, which is surely part of the appeal of this kind of movie. Also the dialogue is pretty damn terrible, ranging from functional to boring. That said, some of the Polite Leader’s monologues are good.

“Tonight allows people a release for all the hatred and violence that they keep up inside them.”

Despite the arguably huge problems I have with The Purge, I still like it. It’s a mess, but an interesting one. I’d much rather watch a film like this that shoots for something and misses than the zero-effort crap like the Paranormal Activity sequels and spin-offs that are out there. The wheels do fall off rather spectacularly, but the core of it is strong and entertaining.

The Purge

Holy prompt review, Batman!

The Purge (2013)

I’m a sucker for simple high-concept films. Stuff like In Time (time is literally money) and Limitless (there’s a pill that can make you super smart) are like freakin’ catnip to me. So when I heard about The Purge, I was intrigued, despite knowing it’d probably be disappointing and not fulfill the promise of its batshit concept.

“I couldn’t find any quotes for The Purge.”

America, 2022. Unemployment is down to 1%, the economy is booming and crime is practically non-existent. This is attributed to The Purge, an annual event brought in by America’s new founding fathers. Basically, once a year for 12 hours, all crime (including murder) is legal and all emergency services are suspended. The idea behind this being that human beings are naturally violent, hate-filled creatures who need to vent out their frustrations to coexist peacefully the rest of the time. We follow minted home security salesman James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) as he and his family, headed by wife Mary (Lena Headey) secure their house and prepare for the night ahead. However, whilst in lockdown mode, son Charlie (Max Burkholder) takes pity on a bloodied and distressed stranger (Edwin Hodge) outside and lets him into their fortress. Before the Sandins know it, they’re being threatened by a masked gang of murderous posh kids and given the ultimatum to either bring out the stranger, or have them break in and slaughter all in the house.

I really like the premise and have done since I caught a short TV ad for it a while back. For 12 hours all crime is legal? Fuck, the fun you can have with that. Yes, you can blow holes in the concept with your big ol’ cynicism and reality cannons, but I don’t trust people who can’t suspend disbelief. See- this sort of situation would justify having a veritable arsenal in your home. This must be what devout, “cold dead hands” NRA members see in their mind’s eye when they reach orgasm. Important point- this is not the horror it’s being billed as. I know the poster has a creepy mask fella on it and proudly boasts it’s from the producers of Sinister and Paranormal Activity, but that means practically nothing. It’s more of a thriller with jump scares. Really underwhelming jump scares. The cast are all bland as fuck, except maybe the “polite leader” of the mask group (Rhys Wakefield) who is so gleeful in being a bastard it’s impossible not to warm to him. I was disappointed to see Queen Mean Lena Headey fade into the background for most of the runtime. She gets some moments later on, but by that point you’re well past giving a shit about anyone.

The film starts off really well. We have an opening CCTV montage of various violent Purge acts happening around the States, set to Debussy’s “Clair de lune” (although, pleb that I am, I first recognised it as the Peggle Nights music). Coupled with the Stepford feel to the sunny surburban life the Sandins have, it does a great job of building a sense of creeping dread. It reminded me of the start of The Hunger Games, possibility because of the similar idea of government-sanctioned violence and murder. There’s a great little bit where the daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane, kept in a kinky Catholic schoolgirl outfit because of reasons) and her dungus boyfriend (Tony Oller) look out the window pre-lockdown and see a neighbour nonchalantly sharpening a massive machete in preparation for the night’s festivities. The news reports analysing the Purge phenomenon are pretty well used too. There’s a none-too-subtle political undercurrent about how The Purge may just have been a way to get rid of the poor and as a result, caused the economy to not only recover, but come on leaps and bounds.  These are all interesting, compelling ideas. It’s just a damn shame the film then goes about dismantling any intrigue and tension from there.

The first problem is that the characters don’t speak like human beings. It’s like writer/director DeMonaco has heard several humans interacting in his time and just gave it his best shot when it came to scripting. A lot of the dialogue is used to signpost shit later on. There’s one bit where weird kid Charlie has a remote control car/camera thing (made to look like a half burnt baby doll/tank hybrid for some arbitrary reason) and he explains to his mother all the modifications he’s made, including night vision, making it practically silent and the ability to play music. Gee- do you think those attributes will perhaps come in handy later? When shit hits the fan, the Sandins’ dialogue gets disappointingly nail-on-the-head which betrays the potentially interesting social commentary.

There are plenty of things that don’t make sense, but most didn’t bother me. The one (mildly spoiler-ish) thing that stuck in my craw was early on where the family talk about James banning his daughter from seeing her boyfriend Henry because he’s too old for her. This is also signposted to buggery. He sneaks back into the house just before lockdown and tells Zoey he wants to talk to her dad and hash out their problems. The siren sounds, the steel shutters decend and he grabs his gun and takes a potshot at Sandin Snr. I mean, what the fuck? I know murder is legal, but didn’t it occur to Henry that perhaps ending his GF’s dad’s life, no matter how above board would make her not want to see him again? Was he lying about loving her? Just what would he have to gain from murdering Sandin? I didn’t understand and the loopy logic kept niggling at the back of my brain throughout the rest of the film.

Things then take a turn for the action-y as the film devolves into a home invasion film with jump scares. As I said, these scares are also serious weak sauce. I got the feeling the film was running out of ideas as several supposedly tense altercations are solved by someone off-screen shooting the attackers. Fucking yawn. Also, CGI blood. A cardinal sin. This goes on for a bit before winding down to an anti-climactic finish. I barely heard the last few lines over my sighs of disappointment.

“Still, most of the dialogue’s akin to a Brillo pad enema, so small mercies, I guess.”

I really wanted to like The Purge, but it felt like nearly every aspect of it was actively working against that goal. This’d be one of the very few properties that I’d like to see get a sequel. Just get a better writer and you could have something really compelling. It’s not terrible, but not good either.