In 2002’s Hollywood Ending, one of Woody Allen’s lesser efforts, Allen plays Val Waxman, a (shocker!) neurotic film director who psychosomatically causes himself to go blind. Ostensibly a do or die project, Waxman directs the film pretending to have all of his visual faculties intact. After seeing The Purge: Anarchy, one might wonder if the same affliction had gripped writer-director James DeMonaco. Unable to write or direct, he just shows up to the set, “Yeah, you guys just run around, stuff happens around you, and we’ll just shake the camera around and stuff.” Having been the Stedicam operator on the Transformers films, cinematographer Jacques Jouffret is used to getting shots that make no sense. This is one of the ugliest movies I’ve ever seen, and it’s not ugly because of the grisly potential of its content. This is a visually incomprehensible array of images, sometimes in focus, dimly lit, and always shaking.
On the night of the annual Purge the government makes all crimes legal for 12 hours. The weak, physically and economically, are brutalized to strengthen the herd. If this sounds political don’t worry, there’s not enough thought put into this film to tap into any political sensibility. Hell, it can’t even tell the story it wants to tell competently. Thanks to the Purge unemployment and crime is at less than 5%, which obviously explains why everyone is so cool with all the murder and mayhem for just one night of the year. Anarchy follows a single mom waitress (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter (Zoë Soul); a couple in the midst of marital turmoil and car trouble (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez), and a grizzled ex-cop (Frank Grillo). Over the course of their hellish evening they’ll encounter such memorable characters as the creepy guy in a mask, that other creepy guy in the mask, that other creepy guy in the mask, and the unforgettable guy in the back of a big rig with a mini-gun.
Regardless of quality, I believe that if you liked The Purge, you’ll be more than happy with The Purge: Anarchy. But if you’re like me and thought The Purge contained a decent premise but its execution was misplaced and slipshod, this sequel has nothing to offer. The first film could be called a claustrophobic horror thriller, Anarchy is more an action film with horror grazing the peripherals. The sequel also suffers from the same problems of its predecessor. The characters are put in danger and witness all kinds of carnage and chaos yet filmmakers refuse to raise the stakes, they won’t kill any main characters until the end. This movie could actually be called 5 Boring Characters Running. It’s Escape from New York meets The Warriors, but without any charm, suspense, terror, or any of the other qualities people seek when going to the movies.
Anarchy has the feel of a student film made by someone who really like John Carpenter but doesn’t understand anything about what makes a John Carpenter film unique –memorable characters, satire, etc. Like the first film, Anarchy hints at a larger world ripe for satire, except there’s no consistency in its perspective. The first film chose to show the Purge from the perspective of wealthy suburbanites, the very folks who thrive off the Purge. Its attempts at satire were after low-hanging fruit – rich people and trust fund Young Republicans. This sequel hints at other elements that may add depth to this world – the rich paying the descendants of the poor to slaughter them, an anti-Purge resistance – but these factors are quickly forgotten. For all the two films’ talk about the “new founding fathers” and “a nation reborn,” any actual information regarding this nightmarish world, how it works, or how it came to be are shockingly sparse.
Even though he exists in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Crossbones in The Winter Soldier, Frank Grillo has been fan-cast as the Punisher for some time. Here he plays the Purgisher, a Frank Castle-lite that seeks vengeance on the man who killed his son. He wears a black trench coat, has a custom muscle car, and carries a small arsenal. He’s a fine actor but his character is paper-thin, then again, so are all the other characters. Nobody in the cast is particularly bad, it’s that what they’re given and how it’s presented are unforgivably awful.
Easily the worst film I’ve seen this year, The Purge: Anarchy does as little with its premise as possible. What’s unforgivable is that film doesn’t even offer the basest thrills. The violence in this film doesn’t shock or terrify. The decision to go with digital gore robs the audience of any gross out moments. When the Purgisher kills some masked crazies, there’s no catharsis, no “Fuck yeah!” moments. It’s not enough that this is visually illiterate film, it’s a painfully boring one, too. Maybe they can get Leo Waxman for The Purge 3.