Last year’s The Purge turned out to be a surprise summer hit, and cemented Blumhouse Productions, makers of the Paranormal Activity series and Insidious as the go to production studio for low-budget horror. Starring Ethan Hawke and Game of Thrones‘ Lena Headey, the film was about an America where, for one day out of the year, all crime was legal. Murder, robbery, jaywalking…you name it.
The Purge had a terrific premise, but the movie itself broke down into a run-of-the-mill home invasion thriller, instead of exploring an environment where all crime is legal. The Purge: Anarchy ditches the horror in favor of following the chaos on the streets, allowing the sequel to dig into the premise with both hands.
The annual Purge is only hours away from beginning, and America is preparing for the latest round. Some people are rushing to get indoors before the chaos begins, like Eva a waitress struggling to pay for her father’s meds. Or Shane and Liz, a married couple whose car breaks down minutes before the Purge begins. On the other side are the people ready for the Purge, like a police Sergeant (Frank Grillo) out for revenge on the man who killed his son, or others, who kill anything they see moving.
There’s also Carmelo (Michael K. Williams), the leader of an uprising against the Purge. His group posts videos preaching against it, and a group of masked men riding around in 18-wheelers, mowing down anyone in their path with Gatling guns.
The original Purge may have been more of a horror film, but Anarchy is very much an action film. Most of the sequel, from its deserted streets and burning cars, plays out like a poor man’s Escape from New York, or more appropriately Escape from L.A., but with no Snake Plissken spouting awesome one-liners or horrific special effects that only the mid-’90s could have provided. Grillo, roaming the streets of Los Angeles in an armored Dodge, even looks like Plissken, all decked out in black and carrying a big gun. He just doesn’t have Kurt Russell’s glorious mullet or Snake’s signature eye patch.
Writer-Director James DeMonaco is back for another Purge, and while The Purge: Anarchy explores some ideas that really flesh out this insane America he’s created, the dialogue is as stilted and boring as it was in the original, only this time there aren’t actors on the level of Ethan Hawke or Lena Headey to make to make those lines sound reasonable. Anarchy may rein in this Purge sequel, but everything still adds up to another middle-of-the-road, throwaway action film.