The Purge: Anarchy (2014)
★★ / ★★★★
The problem with “The Purge: Anarchy,” in which its predecessor is not immune from, is that it gets too bogged down by the action that a wonderful concept is left rotting in the shadows. One cannot help but wonder what would result if a seasoned writer-director with a penchant for the cerebral rather than the visceral took the helm and scoped out the complexities and conundrums of an American futuristic society in which the government authorizes any criminal act—including rape and murder—for one night without lawful repercussions. I realize that movie studios are not interested in that kind of picture, but it would have been right for the material.
And so here we have the sequel to James DeMonaco’s “The Purge,” slightly better than the one that came before but not by much. Though the title promises a subversion during March 21st’s The Annual Purge, the anti-Purge group is given very little time on screen. They appear in the latter half eventually but by then it is too late. They are treated as a device rather than the central element that comes to define the picture.
Instead, time is dedicated to three groups who decide to work together to keep alive while running about downtown: Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and Cali (Zoë Soul) are forced out of their homes by armed men; Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) find themselves stranded when their car broke down minutes before The Commencement; and an unnamed man (Frank Grillo) hopes to exact revenge. Though all of the performers have the charm to command the camera, the script fails to go beyond standard lines.
Most of the characters are given an annoying habit of talking when they are supposed to be silent, hoping not to attract attention from potential snipers on rooftops. If this were a horror movie, it would be without a doubt that they would all end up dead. When they do speak in so-called safe areas, they say nothing special or thought-provoking. One gets the impression there is dialogue only to buy time for the next action sequence in which they are once again the targets and one of them will most likely end up injured.
The climax of the picture takes place inside a compound where the rich are encouraged to bid and, if they win, participate in hunting and murdering individuals—often the poor—who were taken off the chaotic streets overnight. The scene that depicts the hunting is so poorly executed that one must squint in order to get an idea of what is going on exactly. The room is already very dark. Couple that with the camera being focused so closely on faces and bodies that when two people or more get into a scuffle, there is only confusion depicted on screen. To make matters worse, the camera moves so quickly that the director might as well have employed quick, incomprehensible cuts. The climax offers very little artistry so it is not only most disappointing, it is also not at all entertaining.
“This is my right granted to me by the government,” including other variations of it, is a line repeatedly uttered throughout the picture. It would have been a good starting point to explore the implications of the holiday of interest. For one, there is an implication of entitlement—despite having the right to do something regardless of the action actually being right or wrong.
Entitlement is a very relevant thing in modern American society and there are multiple ways to explore it—as a praise or a critique, or both. Alas, it is a shame that the film gives the impression that it must consistently appeal to the lowest common denominator. That is, it must show images of people shooting people, torture, mayhem. As far as mainstream works go, these images need not be explained within a limited standard running time.