Having one night a year where all crime is legal is an interesting, if somewhat ludicrous, concept. Ludicrous when you get down to how something like this would be implemented, but interesting to look into what is left when the limitations posed by our society are taken away. Last year’s The Purge never fully explored the concept, using it instead as a platform for yet another home invasion film which was alright, but didn’t leave an impact. One of my main thoughts coming out of that film was that to get more out of the set-up, we would need to be out in the Purge itself. Another was that Ethan Hawke without a beard looks a bit like Kevin Bacon. The Purge: Anarchy starts off with its best foot forward by making it clear that it would address one of these thoughts, although alas, it was not the Ethan Hawke one. So with this focus on the actual events of the Purge, can The Purge: Anarchy deliver where its predecessor could not?
The night begins with three sets of characters. Waitress Eva (Carmen Ejogo) who just wants to stay safe at home with her teenage daughter Cali (Zoe Soul) and her sick father, married couple Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) who are trying to get home as they face personal problems, and a nameless man (Frank Grillo) who wants to confront someone who has wronged him. As these characters end up out on the streets and meet, their main goal becomes one of survival until morning.
There is something enjoyable about this film in a trashy way, which isn’t an insult. I can’t shake the feeling that if this film had been made in the early 80s, it would have been one of the better Escape from New York knock-offs. The chaotic violence on the streets is certainly one of the film’s strong points. You want the group to survive as they make their way across the city, their obstacles ranging from street punks in masks out for a good time to the privileged rich looking for a way to “cleanse” themselves without any personal risk. What gives these people their menace is the unshakeable belief that what they are doing is right, and that in turn gives the film some of its most effective moments.
The more overt attempts at social commentary are when the film falters, most notably in the the online activist character Carmello (Michael K Williams) where it is laid on a little thick. That aside, the performances are all solid, Grillo in particular getting across a moral, but not particularly nice, hero and the film’s pace snaps along quite nicely.
I enjoyed The Purge: Anarchy more than the original and a lot more than I thought I would. I wouldn’t call it clever, but it does balance action, tension and even some blackly comic moments in all the chaos. How much mileage the series has left remains to be seen, but if there is a plan to make any future films from its half thought out set-up of simply “all crime is legal” then The Purge: Anarchy is definitely a step in the right direction.