“The Purge: Anarchy” is the sequel to a film imagining a near future with a terrifying twist. On a set date once a year all crimes are legal for a 12-hour period. Six years ago “New Founding Fathers” enacted the plan hoping to reduce crime. Their scheme was effective despite the homicidal maniacs using the Purge to satisfy their inner serial killer. Oddly, no one seems concerned with robbing banks or other caches of valuables. In both the first “Purge” and this sequel, murder and/or rape are the crimes everyone is itching to commit.
Made on a limited budget with a slightly-better-than-average screenplay, the first chapter, set behind the fortified walls of a wealthy family living in a gated McMansion community, was a sleeper hit. Nevertheless, the film was not satisfying, having failed to produce even one character we could root for.
In the second chapter, we meet a lone gunslinger participating in the Purge in order to take revenge against a drunk driver who killed his son and got off on a technicality. Known only as Sergeant and portrayed by Frank Grillo, the Purger’s scheme is interrupted when he stops to rescue Eva and Cali, a mother and daughter (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul, respectively) kidnapped to be sold to the wealthy on a Purge black market. Sergeant, Eva and Cali are joined by marooned, bickering yuppies Shane and Liz, played by real-life husband and wife, Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez.
With Sergeant’s armored car disabled in his fight to save them all, the quintet is forced to navigate dangerous downtown Los Angeles. Fortunately, Sergeant equips the group with guns, but they are novices caught in the crossfire between snipers, angry gunslingers and cops, working outside normal constraints to take out the worst criminals. In addition, mercenaries are targeting whole apartment buildings housing the impoverished, their occupants to be sold to the wealthy seeking victims to kill for sport.
Hovering as an idealized presence, mainly off-screen, Carmelo (Michael K. Williams) is an activist determined to stop the Purge, claiming it’s just another tool of the upper classes.
It’s impossible to determine whether writer-director James DeMonaco has rightly predicted the results of a Purge, as he leaves us to imagine that government agencies and police have already used it to rid Los Angeles of its gangs and drug lords. However, DeMonaco manages to include several surprising twists, and, while the film is violent, he never lingers on blood and gore, instead focusing on the personalities whom either embrace or fear the Purge.
By constructing a cat-and-mouse game played out in subway tunnels and buildings, on rooftops, in freight trucks, in cars or places frequented by the wealthy, DeMonaco ensures we are never bored. I predict he’ll continue to purge us of our movie dollars, though it’s difficult to imagine how he’ll manage to make an installment more engrossing than this one. Perhaps the next one will feature opportunists selling secure lodgings in their unoccupied backyard bomb shelters.