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Purge Anarchy, The

D: James DeMonaco / 103m

Cast: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoë Soul, Justina Machado, John Beasley, Jack Conley, Michael K. Williams

March 31, 2023: The annual Purge is mere hours away.  A police sergeant, Leo (Grillo) is preparing to use the twelve hour crime amnesty to murder the man who ran over and killed his son.  A diner waitress, Eva (Ejogo) is on her way home to spend the evening with her daughter, Cali (Soul) and father, Rico (Beasley).  And a couple, Shane (Gilford) and Liz (Sanchez), are travelling to see his sister; they have something important to tell her.  Then the couple’s car breaks down, leaving them stranded and pursued by a gang of masked and face-painted Purgers.  Meanwhile, Eva and Cali are doing their best to reassure their father that they will be able to cope with the increasing cost of his medical treatment, but Rico is dismissive.  While they prepare dinner, he leaves their apartment, having made arrangements that will see both of them well taken care of… but at a price.

The Purge begins.  Leo takes to the streets, while Shane and Liz continue to try and avoid the gang that’s pursuing them.  Eva and Cali discover their father has gone – and the reason why.  They also find their building under attack from a team of SWAT-like intruders led by Big Daddy (Conley).  A more immediate threat comes from one of their neighbours but the women find themselves abducted by Big Daddy’s men instead.  Leo happens to be passing by when he sees Eva and Cali being dragged into the street; against his better judgment he rescues the women, and without knowing it, Shane and Liz as well (they’ve taken the opportunity to hide in the back of his car).  Their escape sees Leo’s car hit several times by bullets and later it breaks down.  Eva tells Leo she has a friend nearby with a car and if he gets everyone to her friend’s apartment then she’ll persuade her friend, Tanya (Machado) to let him have the car.  Leo agrees and they all set off on foot.  The group finds itself under attack before they reach Tanya’s apartment, and Shane is wounded in the shoulder in the process.

Simmering tensions amongst Tanya’s family leads to unexpected bloodshed and the group are forced to leave – but without a car.  Outside it isn’t long before Big Daddy’s men capture them.  They are taken to a building that has been set up to provide rich patrons with the opportunity to have their own private Purge, and the five find themselves in a room being stalked by seven of the rich Purgers.  Leo kills some of them, at which point the building is invaded by a group of anti-Purgists led by Carmelo (Williams).  Leo, Eva and Cali flee in the confusion and they head to the home of the man who killed Leo’s son.  The women try to convince Leo to let it go, but he enters the man’s home anyway…

Purge Anarchy, The - scene

It’s an ominous thought, but there’s a good possibility that we’ll be “treated” to a Purge movie every year until the law of dwindling financial returns convinces the producers to shut up shop and move on to pastures new.  In the meantime, this first sequel does its best to expand on the original movie’s intriguing premise, but dulls matters despite its increased budget ($9 million, triple the original’s), and a broadening of the material that takes in everything from Government corruption to an anti-Purge movement to its third act Most Dangerous Game development.   It’s a smart move, but it’s not too long before the viewer may well be wondering, Why didn’t they stick with the whole home under siege schtick of the first movie?  The family under attack is briefly referenced when Eva and Cali’s building is stormed by Big Daddy’s men but it’s less an excuse for some carefully built-up tension and suspense than for Noel Gugliemi’s gun-toting neighbour to bring on the ham.  And the makers have fallen into the trap of so many other filmmakers in the past, and failed to realise that having a group of people running around deserted streets at night while being pursued is about as exciting a prospect as watching an Uwe Boll double bill.

The main problem here is that none of the characters are particularly likeable, so it’s difficult to care if they’re killed or not.  Where The Purge (2013) took some time to introduce its dysfunctional family, here the emphasis is on quick brush strokes and on to the next set up before anyone realises how little has been invested in creating a group the audience can root for.  Leo is as taciturn as you’d expect from a character who occupies an uneasy moral high ground, while Eva, who you might also expect to turn out to be the resourceful heroine is instead relegated to bystander the longer the movie goes on.  Cali is too whiny to care about, and Shane and Liz are as irritating as a paper cut – of all five, these are the ones you hope don’t make it to the next morning.  However, this isn’t the actors’ fault, but returning writer/director DeMonaco’s, his script trying to cram too much in – the whole third act with the moneyed elite feels like it should be the focus of another instalment, and is as dramatically rushed as the rest of the movie.

Thanks to its hurried pacing and uninspired plotting, The Purge: Anarchy is only fitfully involving, and with only hints and oblique clues as to the even wider conspiracy still to be explored, the movie feels increasingly like a transition piece, something to keep the audience happy until the bigger story can be worked out and put on screen.  That said, there are some nice, incidental touches: the woman covered in blood at the roadside, the bus on fire rolling by in the background, the return of the Stranger (Edwin Hodge) from the first movie, but they’re so few and far between, they make you wonder why the rest of the movie has to be so predictable.  The cast do their best with the material but the limitations of their characters defeat them for the most part, and the lack of any real threat – having someone wearing face paint really isn’t scary or threatening any more, not on screen at least – leaves the group’s chances of survival looking more likely than not.  DeMonaco directs efficiently enough but without bringing anything new visually or stylistically that we haven’t seen in a hundred other similar movies.

Rating: 5/10 – a calculated sequel that never really takes off, The Purge: Anarchy shows what can happen when a movie is unexpectedly successful and the idea of a franchise is borne; future Purges will need to be more tightly focused than this episode, and with characters the audience can invest in emotionally, otherwise the series may well find itself purged of anyone who’s interested.