“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 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, in my opinion, a boring film – not a lot actually happened and I felt that it squandered an interesting premise. A family locked themselves in their house on Purge night, a couple of things went wrong, and the father died… the end. So my hope for this film was that we’d see a variety of stories, different settings, and a variety of characters trying to kill each other. That was all I wanted.
With that in mind it would be unfair to say that nothing happens in this movie. Things do happen, but nothing that occurs is particularly compelling and 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 this film reference the fact that the government has to get involved on Purge night because ‘people aren’t killing enough’, so well armed government officials are out in force to ensure that things don’t go along smoothly. Yet, even on this supposedly busy night things are reasonably quiet. 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’ve been deserted that year!
It’s hard to review “Anarchy” separately to “The Purge” because the main attraction is the premise and this obviously belongs to both films. The premise is both the best and worst thing about both of these movies, because for all its potential the writers don’t seem to be able to come up with a way to effectively explore the world that they’re trying to build.
In a movie such as this you need to distract your audience because otherwise they’ll have far too much time to put the idea behind the film under scrutiny. Unfortunately, this film isn’t clever or self-aware enough to achieve this and thus I was left cold. When “Anarchy” finally finished and the usual analysis began I found that I didn’t want to talk about specific scenes or characters because none of them affected me in a meaningful way – all I wanted to do was raise the many questions that I had about how the Purge could ever be allowed to happen.
My biggest fascination on this front is what it must have been like to be involved in the first conversation about the Purge – the first back-and-forth in regards to legalising all crime for one night each year. ‘Um… there’s a lot of crime in our country Mr President, so I was thinking that it might be a good idea to let everyone do all the things they want to do on one night each year. I mean anything. It’ll be an annual event! Security firms will benefit, we’ll have less homeless, and crime rates will drop because people will allow their rage to build inside them for 364 consecutive days before letting it out without consequence! It’ll be like Christmas for serial killers!’ – that person belongs on a psyche ward and he certainly 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 ways to answer these questions; perhaps other nations don’t want to get involved in foreign politics, perhaps they tried to get involved but didn’t like the backlash, or maybe there’s something to gain by keeping quiet. These are reasonable answers to difficult questions, and in the film’s universe there are statistics that support ‘all the good The Purge does’, so it baffles me that they aren’t explored or at least referenced.
After thinking about these issues many times since watching the film I don’t think that I can take “The Purge”, “The Purge: Anarchy”, or any future film in this franchise seriously, because I don’t believe that the writers have the answers to my questions. They continually brush over important issues – issues which are more interesting than the content that they produce – and they do so whilst simultaneously failing to deliver when it comes to action and excitement! It isn’t a case of pushing realism aside to focus on entertainment, it’s merely incompetence on all fronts.
It’s clear that the writers want there to be political undertones behind what’s happening because at various points they go out of their way to suggest that The Purge isn’t just about keeping the crime rate down in America, (it’s also about killing the poor to allow the rich to prosper), yet the attempts that they make to incorporate sinister motives completely miss their mark.
“Anarchy” lacks in so many areas that I could go on forever if I tried to assess all of it’s flaws in detail, so rather than doing that I’m going to mention some of them before I try to pick out some positives:
1) My first issue, which is actually a question, is what happened to morality? The Purge doesn’t exist in a distant dystopian future – “The Purge” was set in 2022! So why does it seem that religion, self-restraint, and general decency have magically gone out of the window? Personally, I’d enjoy an exploration as to what an outraged perspective on the Purge looks like much more than I enjoy watching helpless people getting murdered! People’s ideologies and their understanding of right and wrong don’t directly flow from whatever the government decides to legislate, so why aren’t people compelled to speak out? The people in this universe all had specific upbringings and experiences before the Purge was invented so why would they elect an official who supports this nonsense?
2) My second issue, which again is more of a question, is why is the only crime that we see murder? Everything would be far more believable if we saw other crimes. There are moments in the film when we’re supposed to suppress this kind of thought; for instance, we’re told that the banks move their money out of the business district before the annual Purge because this makes the fact that people don’t try to become rich over night more palatable. On that point I have just one question… move it to where? Are we seriously supposed to believe that no one has ever thought that 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) Issue three, another question – why are certain weapons prohibited and high ranking officials untouchable? I get that the upper class are on a pedestal and that they created the Purge because it benefited them to do so, but when the announcement explicitly says – ‘for the next 12 hours ALL crime is legal’ – I expect there to be some kind of accuracy to that statement! 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 in the first place if you knew that it wasn’t technically true?
4) The main character and his story are completely underdeveloped. He lost his son to a drunk driver 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 staying home while the hero is on a killing spree! I don’t understand why this story was ever written because it’s just so lazy and self-serving! The film could’ve started with the death of Leo’s son as a build up to the main narrative – it’s not as if “Anarchy” is excessively long – and this would’ve forced the audience to be minimally invested in the climax. At no point did we actually see the incident that killed the son – we didn’t even see an image of him – so seriously why should we care?
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 their car breaks down, so having them be the focal point of the film would’ve made it more entertaining overall. Instead it turned out that the gang were simply trying to earn some cash by delivering stranded citizens to a group of wealthier Purgers, as though to make some sort of comment on the state of society in the real world. Whatever statement the writers were trying to make here wasn’t funny or clever, it merely served to make the film less exciting and left holes in the set-up of the narrative.
After all that’s been said so far it should be clear that I didn’t like this film, but there are some very small positives to be found within it and in a review as long as this it would be unfair to ignore them.
Firstly, Frank Grillo’s acting isn’t all that bad; he acquits himself well and he does his best to command the screen – it’s just a shame that his character is incredibly thin. He did as well as he could considering the script at his disposal and he didn’t offend me with his performance.
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 the film hadn’t had time to display its inadequacy at that point.
There was also a scene in which the main cast took shelter in the house of a seemingly happy family, who were somehow completely unconcerned by what was going on around them, (just like the rest of the world), and that scene was pretty fun. It had the right tone and I felt uncomfortable because I didn’t know what was going to happen next, which was a welcome change in a very predictable film.
Despite these infrequent moments of enjoyment this movie’s positives were potentially as damning as its negatives, because the side characters and their stories were more compelling than our protagonist’s. One film comprised of the best ideas and characters of this film and its predecessor would perhaps make for a decent thriller, but I suppose we’ll never know.
Overall I would say that “The Purge: Anarchy” was a wasted opportunity. Boring. Predictable. Lazy. This film should’ve been easy to get right but it did as little as it possibly could, creating scenes which could be used to form a compelling trailer but not a cohesive narrative. At the end of the day “Anarchy” is not worth the price of a ticket. The only crime you’ll be talking about when you leave the cinema is that the filmmakers have robbed you and, just like on Purge night, there’s nothing you can do about it.