“The Purge: Anarchy” is a film which promises to be everything that the first film wasn’t. Fast paced, menacing, vicious; a film about the chaos there would be if our society had no rules. So what went wrong?
The film itself revolves around four individuals who, in an effort to survive the annual Purge, attach themselves to a man seeking revenge for the death of his son. The expansion over the first film is implied in the title – ‘Anarchy’. “The Purge” was quite a boring film all things considered – not a lot actually happened. SPOILER ALERT – a family locked themselves in their house on Purge night and a couple of things went wrong… the end. So my hope for this film was that we’d see a variety of stories, different settings, and a range of interesting characters attempting to kill each other. That was all I wanted.
It would be unfair to say that NOTHING happens in this movie. Things do happen but nothing that occurs is really that compelling, and in fact there isn’t much anarchy at all. This movie doesn’t earn its title, so in turn it didn’t meet my expectations.
Characters in the film reference the fact that the government has to get involved because ‘people aren’t killing enough’, so well armed government Purgers are out to ensure that things don’t go along smoothly. Yet, even on this supposedly busy night, there aren’t that many people who’ve come out to play. If this is an exciting Purge night then I suppose I should thank the writers for localising the events of the first film to Ethan Hawke’s house because the streets must have been deserted that year!
It’s hard to review “The Purge: Anarchy” separately from the first film in the series because the main attraction is the premise. This premise is actually the thing which annoys me the most, or more accurately the way that the writers deal with the premise, and obviously it belongs to both films.
In a movie such as this you need to distract your audience with violence and entertainment because otherwise they will be left with far too much time to put the idea behind the film under scrutiny, and that’s the position that I found myself in. Once this film ended and the usual analysis began I found that I simply didn’t want to talk about specific scenes or characters because none of them affected me in any meaningful way. All I wanted to do was discuss the many questions that I had about how on earth the Purge was actually allowed to happen, particularly the first conversation that must have taken place in order for it to have come about – ‘um… there’s a lot of crime, so how about we let everyone have just one night to do all the things they want to do? Like… ANYTHING. Annually. It’ll be like Christmas for serial killers!’ – that person belongs on a psyche ward, he should not have a hand in running your country!
Why does the rest of the world allow America to do this? Does nobody care? Do other countries join in? There are a number of possible answers to these questions; perhaps other nations don’t want to get involved because they don’t want to face the repercussions, perhaps they tried to get involved and have since faced said repercussions, or perhaps they have something positive to gain by keeping quiet. There are statistics that support ‘all the good The Purge does’ so perhaps those statistics are enough to make the foreign public turn a blind eye to atrocities happening halfway across the world.
These solutions, although far-fetched, should’ve at least been explored over the course of the film in order to bring the world to life and make the film feel worthwhile. Alas they weren’t, and even if they were I’m not sure that the experience would’ve been believable. After thinking about these issues so much since I watched the film I don’t think that I can take “The Purge”, “The Purge: Anarchy”, or any future film in the franchise seriously, because they brush over so many important aspects of their premise in order to spend time on action and excitement whilst simultaneously failing to deliver when it comes to those features!
There are plenty of ways in which this film fails to realise its premise. It’s clear that the writers want there to be deep political undertones behind what’s happening – at various points they go out of their way to make it clear that The Purge isn’t just about keeping the crime rate down in America, it’s also about killing the poor in order to allow the rich to prosper, yet the attempts that they make to incorporate these sinister motives just don’t work.
There are points in the movie that force this hidden agenda down your throat, particularly when Carmelo and the anti-Purgers are on screen. I found that those scenes really took me out of the movie and I didn’t believe for a second that he was the first person to do what he was doing. It’s been years since the first Purge and it’s now a well-integrated part of any American’s life, so Carmelo surely can’t be special! There’s just no way that he’s the first notable person to have spoke out against The Purge. What did the Pope have to say about it?
Furthermore, as the voice of the rebellion Carmelo was so unconvincing that he was almost laughable and I really don’t think that it was necessary for him to be in the film at all. The only reason that he was written into the script was so that someone we’d already seen could save the protagonists from certain doom, and even when that happened he didn’t portray the desired feeling of authority or control.
Despite this, there are other points in “The Purge: Anarchy” where I feel as though the political intentions behind the Purge were completely underdone. For long periods of the film the politics behind the Purge were ignored and we were led to believe that there were actually people out there who didn’t realise what was going on. Cali tried to explain to her grandfather that something needed to be done and he just brushed it off! This potentially interesting plot point was so poorly executed that I couldn’t help but think that the film would’ve been better if it was just left out entirely.
“Anarchy” lacks in so many areas that I could go on for pages and pages trying to assess it’s flaws in detail, but it’s important that I mention some of them before I try to pick out some positive points:
1) My first issue, (which I’ve already touched on), is what happened to morality? The universe in which the Purge exists isn’t a far off dystopian future – “The Purge” is set in 2022! Have religion, self-restraint and general decency magically gone out of the window? Is this movie set in an alternate universe? I would enjoy seeing an outraged perspective on this a lot more than I enjoy watching helpless people trying not to die! People’s ideologies and their understanding of right and wrong don’t directly flow from whatever the government decides to legislate, they’re based on upbringing and ingrained philosophies. Law is not God – it’s neither good nor bad – it’s just a guideline. The people in this universe all had particular experiences in the years before the Purge was created that should inform how they behave and how they view the world, so why do the writers of “Anarchy” expect me to accept these blank-slate characters?
2) Why is the only crime we see murder? Everything would be far more believable if we saw other crimes. There are moments in the film when we are supposed to suppress this kind of thought, like when we’re told that the banks move their money out of the business district before the annual Purge. On that point I have just one question… move it to where? Are we seriously supposed to believe that no one has ever thought it would be a good idea to find out where that money was being taken? ‘Oh, well I suppose I could follow these nice men to the place where all the money goes but that might be too much trouble; I don’t want to be a billionaire’. Great. I believe in this movie.
3) Why are certain weapons prohibited and high ranking officials untouchable? I get that the upper class are on a pedestal, but when the announcement explicitly says – ‘for the next 12 hours ALL crime is legal’ – I expect there to be some accuracy to that message! If the only rule is that there are no rules then I don’t expect to be given a set of rules to follow! Why would you write the announcement in that way if you knew it wasn’t technically true?
4) The main character and his story are completely underdeveloped. He has lost his son to a drunk driver and so he wants revenge, I get that, but if the person he’s trying to reach is so evil then why isn’t he purging too? It’s hard to get behind the protagonist when the antagonist of the film is the one sleeping in rather than going on a killing spree! I can accept that the drunk driver isn’t evil at all, but if that’s the case then please don’t try to pretend that Leo is some kind of hero in this story. He’s in pain and can’t accept the loss of his son, and that is something which is completely understandable, but trying to take revenge is not a noble pursuit so at least have him slaughter the guy at the end! I would have enjoyed watching that! I don’t understand why this story was even written, it’s just so lazy and self-serving, giving the main character a conscience whilst also having him shoot first and ask questions later when the plot requires. The film could’ve actually started with the death of Leo’s son as a build up, it’s not as if “Anarchy” is excessively long, and this would’ve given us some insight into how this society works on a day-to-day basis. At no point do we see the incident that killed the son, or even an image of him, so seriously why should I care? Anything would have been better than saying, ‘we don’t need character development, we can explicitly state the characters intentions’.
5) “Anarchy” would’ve been a far better film if the main antagonists were the masked gang. When we’re first introduced to them they’re genuinely off-putting, especially if you put yourself in the shoes of Shane and Liz when they realise that they have no vehicle to escape in. However, it turns out that the gang (the most threatening group of people in the entire film) were just trying to earn some money by delivering stranded citizens to a group of wealthier Purgers. If that’s the case then why did they let Liz and Shane run away when their car broke down? When I thought they were murderers I was happy to believe that it was for sport, the thrill of the chase, but when I know that effectively it’s just business I start to think that maybe they let them go in order to create artificial tension, and so that the cameramen could get a nice shot of the gang looking intimidating with machetes and baseball bats (which they were never going to use anyway).
6) The ending… SPOILER ALERT. Why does Leo allow his son’s killer to survive? Leo has killed numerous people, so please don’t try to make me believe that he has a moral compass! When the child killer predictably saves Leo at the end he has no reason to believe that Leo is the innocent party in the exchange, and as an audience member I have no reason to believe this either. Leo is a home invader who literally threatened the man’s life moments before so why not let him eat lead? This man is in no position to take a person’s life based on what he knows about the man he’s saving, so just don’t do the scene. If a scene is going to be blatantly idiotic then don’t do it! Did the man even know what time it was? The Purge could’ve been over yet he pulled the trigger anyway! Then the government officials, who had been on an absolute rampage, proceeded to walk away after deciding that a noise in the sky was a good enough reason to stand down; ‘Oh no it’s 1 second past 7, better not kill these guys who could potentially be dangerous to our cause. That would be wrong’. Don’t try to pretend like there would’ve been repercussions for the murder – The Purge had only just finished, there wouldn’t have been any witnesses and the government wouldn’t even look into it when they found out that it was their own doing.
After all that’s been said so far it’s clear that I don’t like this film, but there are some very small positives to be found and it would be unfair to disregard them because of how I feel about the movie. Frank Grillo’s acting isn’t actually that bad; he acquits himself quite well and he does his best to command the screen, it’s just a shame that his character is so non-existent. I feel like he did as he was told to the best of his ability, but I suppose anyone can do their job well if all they’re told to do is ‘smile and wave’, or at least I thought so until I sat through this film and saw the performances of the supporting cast.
My favourite scene of the film was when Papa Rico decided to give himself up as an offering to an affluent family in order to earn some money for his daughter and granddaughter. In the short time that this character was on screen I actually enjoyed what I was watching, although that was right at the start of the film and I did figure out what was going on pretty quickly. When the family was surrounding him in the Dexter-esque room, trying not to ruin their furniture with the blood of their victim, I felt like the film could go somewhere even if I didn’t get to see the exact moment when he bit the dust.
There is also a scene in which the main cast take shelter in the house of a seemingly happy family, who are somehow completely unconcerned by what’s going on around them, (just like the rest of the world), and that scene had the right tone for what was about to happen. I felt uncomfortable but I didn’t really understand why, other than the fact that things seemed slightly off. I was pleased by the fact that the world didn’t revolve around the main cast so much at this point and I at least felt invested for a few moments.
Despite the infrequent moments of enjoyment I had during the movie I feel as though its positives were potentially just as damning as its negatives, because the side characters and their stories were more compelling than our leading man’s. One film comprised of the ideas and characters of this film and its predecessor would perhaps make for a far better film than the ones we’ve endured so far, provided that this imaginary film was handled with care. Imagine “The Purge: Pulp Fiction” in which characters were all appropriately developed in a short space of time so that we understood their motivations, followed by interconnected events taking place on one Purge night. Wouldn’t that be lovely? No? Oh fair enough then, let’s keep forcing characters together in an emotionless story with no pay off.
So, overall I would say that “The Purge: Anarchy” was a wasted opportunity. Boring. Predictable. Lazy. This film should’ve been so easy to get right but it did as little as it possibly could, creating scenes which could be used to create a compelling trailer but not a well thought out story. At the end of the day “Anarchy” is not worth the price of a ticket, and the only crime you’ll be talking about when you leave the cinema is that the filmmakers have just robbed you and, just like on Purge night, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.