The idea of 2013’s The Purge was a simple but effective: each year, for one night, all crime is legal. Emergency services are suspended, and apart from a few exceptions, it’s every person for themselves. While there were some decent scenes, it was hard to shake the feeling that the execution of the idea wasn’t what it should have been and unfortunately, The Purge: Anarchy continues this trend.
The rules (or lack of) are the same: one night, no laws. This time though, the story expands from one house to the city, and one family to three groups of people, brought together by chance who must band together if they are to survive the night. There’s the mother/daughter combo of Eva and Cali (Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul, respectively) who are unceremoniously thrown out of their seemingly safe apartment by invading ‘soldiers’, Shane and Liz (the actually, really, true life married pairing of Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) who meet the others after their car breaks down, and finally a mysterious tough guy (Frank Grillo) out on a vendetta against the man who killed his son.
It starts out well enough – each sub-plot seems unique enough in its own right, and the bringing together of all doesn’t seem contrived. More importantly, there’s time taken to flesh out the characters a little so they don’t appear to be the usual expendable bunch. But after they meet, it quickly settles onto a more conventional path. Scenes don’t feel like they naturally flow into each other, but come across more like forced set pieces where the antagonists are pitted against increasingly difficult tasks. There’s next to no tension – in fact, it plays out more like an action movie than a survival one where each problem is solved with a machine gun. The claustrophobia that the first exhibited in a few scenes is absent, and in its place is a nasty streak of violence and, well, anarchy.
That’s not to say it isn’t entertaining: if you enjoyed the first, there’s a lot you’ll like here, especially hearing the ‘Commencement Siren’ again. Director James DeMonaco gives us glimpses of the lawlessness gripping the city, with one particular gang featuring heavily as they stalk the group. But it seems that as the Purge universe has expanded, it has become less interesting. The appeal of the first, for me personally, was not seeing what was happening, only hearing about it and how frightening it must be to be in a situation like that. Here, all the cards are on the table and there’s nothing left to the imagination.
Ultimately, without the (admittedly small) star power of Ethan Hawke, the lack of tension and average performances The Purge: Anarchy suffers and feels too much like a straight-to-DVD release to be able to fully recommend a full price cinema ticket.