Expanding upon a theory posited in the first film – that The Purge is simply a tool to eliminate the poor – The Purge: Anarchy takes place at the palpitating heart of an angry city. Downtown there is little evidence of the (tastefully passive aggressive) flower arrangements that chirruped support for the New Founding Fathers from the manicured lawns of suburbia. Instead a rumble of resentment underscores Purge Night preparations. An underground movement against the annual bloodshed is gaining credibility as the divide between the haves and have-nots becomes a yawning Death Valley. And the countdown to commencement ticks mercilessly on.
Bereaved father Leo (Frank Grillo) is our brooding vigilante. Tooled up for a vengeful night on the town, Leo lets his death proof car idle and his careful plans go awry when his Spidey senses alert him to ladies in peril. Hardworking waitress Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her Purge-sceptic daughter Cali (Zoe Soul) had planned to bed down and hide out with grandpa but soon learn grandpa has found a more selfless way to mark Purge Night. Dragged from their home by a tactical assault team – to face the pantomime brilliance of Big Daddy (Jack Conley) and his truck of death – the terrified pair cower before their executioner. Which all proves most fortunate for the estranged lovers seeking shelter in Frank’s ride.
Of course the five strangers reluctantly bond and form Team Good Guy, with Cali as Leo’s Jiminy Cricket. And here is where the first holes begin to appear. There is a tangible power struggle at play between the predictable splashy violence – delivered with not inconsiderable relish – and a desire to deliver a more sombre critique. Perhaps this moral undertow inspired the Anarchy moniker (a confusing subtitle the mind wanders to during baggier moments in the chase) because there is certainly nothing anarchistic about displaying behaviour prescribed by law. Or perhaps the anarchic act here is the audacity of those trying to survive. And of those who dare to look behind the Purge Night facade for darker motivations. Either way it is a jolly distracting word choice.
Despite its commercial success and broad appeal, DeMonaco conceived the first Purge to be an indie film take on a morality play. The story of one mildly dislikable family learning bloody lessons about their values. With Anarchy he broadens the reach of the lens and leers at individuals on either side of the wealth divide. Scenes of prosperous white folks purging do pack a nice satirical punch; with a cheeringly singular auction and hunt as the film’s crowning glory. However, his more intriguing material deals with the groundswell of rebellion against the New Founding Fathers and here things get very silly indeed. The rebels are led by Carmelo (Michael K Williams) a man with a plan (and a man with ‘Allo ‘Allo accessories obscuring his expressive face). Grafitti and whispers across the LA night attest to their shadowy presence…but will zee Resistance save zee day?
While we’re spared the cringe of The Purge’s lecherous obsession with school uniformed thighs, the teenaged daughter in this incarnation is threatened with rape instead. Alongside her mother. Despite the instant karmic payback wrought upon the perpetrator, it remains a clanging note of tackiness which ought to have been excised. Surely the prospect of brutal death is drama enough? There is better articulated tension between stranded couple Shane and Liz (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez), picked off by the biker gang and earmarked for higher things. Their lingering irritation with one another plays well against their grudging affection and gives them value as emotionally investable characters.
Thanks to production designer Brad Ricker and his team, dank cityscapes, an evocative ’70s colour palette and fragments of cartoon brutality do wield a certain grindhouse picture charm but they are undermined by a story that tries to be all things to all people and fails 80% of them in the process. Even Carmelo’s big moment is ultimately a bit of a turkey. Peppering serving staff and second tier henchmen with shot – as their wealthy employers slink away – seems rather a Pyrrhic victory in a class war. By credits’ close things are no clearer but maybe that is the point. With Blumhouse Productions as Big Daddy to this franchise, Los Angeles will undoubtedly Purge again.