The Purge: Anarchy, the sequel to 2013’s surprise hit home invasion drama The Purge, is a better film than its predecessor. Similar to Hostel and Hostel 2, the original film’s weakness lies in the fact that its intriguing premise became mired in the conventions of a typical horror film. Hostel did everything it could, initially, to justify the audience’s disdain for its main characters only to re-humanize them by subjecting them to sadistic torture.
The Purge took place in an America changed by incredible poverty and civil unrest into a peaceful prosperous society by unleashing one evening of unfettered lawful violence. The problem is after creating a scenario laden with immense potential; the film became a classic home invasion flick. In developing a system by which the invasion is both legal and subject to a time limit, The Purge succeeded in creating drama and it contained an interesting social commentary but once the bad guys start forcing their way into the house the flick becomes average. Anarchy promises several elements fans and critics of the original film both said they wanted. Instead of taking place in a fortress in the suburbs this film takes place downtown in a city on Purge Night. The insanity of Purge Night isn’t trying to force its way into a safe place… this film works to pull people from safety and put them directly into the path of danger. The question is does that shift in the formula make for a successful film?
The Purge: Anarchy begins 2 hours and 26 minutes before the Annual Purge. A couple, Liz (Kiele Sanchez) and Shane (Zach Gilford), are driving their car home from a trip using the back roads to avoid highway traffic. They are married and headed to the safety of their middle class life. Unlike the main characters in the original film that were extremely wealthy these are middle of the road citizens of the new America. As they head home, Eva (Carmen Ejojo), a waitress at a downtown diner finishes her shift with her last customer. She and the other employees are sent home but she hangs back to discuss a raise with her boss. After a stop at the pharmacy for medicine for her father, medicine she can’t really afford, she heads home to lock down her apartment. Eva’s daughter, Cali (Zoe Soul), is watching the news with her grandfather Rico (John Beasley) who expresses his extreme hatred of the holiday. Across town, Sergeant (Frank Grillo), is preparing to head out into Purge Night. Just as the countdown to Commencement ends… Liz and Shane’s car breaks down, Rico sneaks away from his daughter and granddaughter and Sergeant gets into his car and heads out into the night.
The rules of the event are the same as before. All crimes including murder are legal. Weapons up to ‘level 4’, are allowed and use of anything like explosives or chemical weapons are banned. The Purge lasts 12 hours commencing at 7pm and government officials ‘level 10’ and above are not allowed to be harmed. The benefits of this being the second film in the series is it allows the filmmakers to expand on the ideas hinted at in the first film. We are not just guessing at ideas anymore we are actually seeing them in action. There is a distinct reason that crime is lower, that unemployment is lower, and that certain portions of society revel in the Purge while others are victims of it.
As a film Anarchy is better than its predecessor. Any audience members that never saw the first film should still find it accessible. The enormity of Purge Night can be felt in this film. In the first film the trick of the story is that attacking someone’s home is 100% legal and that puts the audience on edge since home is meant to be a safe place. In Anarchy the world is dangerous, and instead of being allowed to ride it out in the safety of their homes these five characters are forced or volunteer to engage in the craziness of the New Founding Fathers of America’s signature holiday. In this case the sequel is preferable to the original because its no longer attempting to build an entire film on its premise.
Is this new film perfect? No. Its got some pacing issues and falls into a few traps that the original film did as well. That said this is the expanded view of The Purge Universe that I desired after seeing the first film. If you were a fan of the original but wanted to see more than just that one suburban street, this film could be what you were hoping for. If you found The Purge’s premise unbelievable and unenjoyable then there’s nothing here that will sway you.