The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

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*. They didn’t waste any time starting the franchise machine up for this one. A sequel to The Purge was announced almost immediately upon that film’s release.
*. This is, however, a very different film, as it almost had to be. The Purge was a home-invasion thriller, a consciously self-contained, almost claustrophobic film. A sequel was going to have to take the basic premise in a new direction.
*. I was squirming through the introduction. It just made no sense at all that so many people, including our unfortunate married couple, would be out shopping, hoping to get home just in time before “commencement.” And then when the Purge actually started I found myself questioning the concept. Yes, it makes for a better movie, but if you were a Purger, or in a gang of Purgers, why would you go downtown? Especially downtown Los Angeles of all places? Wouldn’t you want to go crazy in one of that town’s many billionaire ‘burbs? Think about it: the only people downtown are other gangs of bad asses loaded for bear. So what’s the point?
*. After these initial reservations things settled down into a nice little dystopian action flick, with early vibes of Mad Max (Frank Grillo’s Sergeant drives a customized Deathmobile) and Escape from New York.
*. I was also impressed by a couple of decent bait-and-switch movements in the plot. I didn’t expect the masked gang to turn out to be what they were, and I was quite surprised by the revelation of what was really going on in Tanya’s apartment. They really got me on that one!
*. The point I made in my comments on The Purge was that it was the logical end point of the zombie genre, with people like us barricaded in our homes against homicidal maniacs who aren’t flesh-eating reanimated corpses or rabid carriers of a deadly virus but just our neighbours, revealed as the bloodthirsty animals they are.
*. This movie is quite different, belonging to another sub-genre in contemporary horror. This is murder and mayhem as entertainment, in particular for an affluent elite. The auction and hunt of the five survivors at the tony dining club looks exactly like the same set they used for a similar purpose in Hostel: Part III, and there are other echoes of the Hostel films as well.
*. It’s become a common trope, though its movie roots go back at least as far The Most Dangerous Game (and I guess you could say the cultural roots go back to the Coliseum). The Japanese film Battle Royale and its more class-conscious Americanized version The Hunger Games have the same interest in horrific forms of entertainment.
*. My difficulty with both of these Purge movies is that it’s such a rarefied blood lust shown being satisfied. Aside from the demented doorman Diego, the Sergeant is the only person who seems to really want to kill someone. Everybody else is purging as part of a ritual, a social duty, or in the case of the government stormtroopers, as a cull.
*. Perhaps this is also a way of responding to a commonly heard complaint leveled at these films: why do we only see people committing murder? Why aren’t women being raped? Why aren’t stores being looted? At least we do get a line here about how all the banks have been emptied pre-Purge, but that’s it.
*. Instead of cathartic mayhem there is only a crude exercise in de-population. Much of it seems politically motivated (the doorman who feels downtrodden, the stockbroker who stole the people’s pensions hanged over the door of a bank), but curiously there is a Black Panther movement afoot to stop the Purge. Logically, shouldn’t Carmelo’s fighters be killing the rich like the rest of the Purgers, engaging in a form of class war? But if those were the battle lines that were drawn, would the government allow it? Wouldn’t they have to shut down the Purge in order to protect property?
*. I guess it’s to this film’s credit that it raises questions like these. That doesn’t mean it’s a particularly original, profound, or well-made movie, but it’s not all brainless spatter either.

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