If you’ve seen the Ethan Hawk starring The Purge, you’ll know the concept. Once a year, for 12 hours, all crime becomes legal, including murder, apparently keeping poverty and unemployment to the lowest it has ever been in America. It’s an intriguing concept, which kind of fell flat as it ended up being just another home invasion horror. That’s not to say that the film was all bad, it had its moments, but didn’t live up to the potential. The Purge: Anarchy, takes things to the streets, delivering what should have been seen in the first movie.
The story follows three sets of characters whose paths cross on Purge night a year after the previous movie: Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), a couple going through a rough patch, that end up in the wrong place at the wrong time, single mother Eva (Carmen Ejogo), trying to make ends meet as a waitress, whilst looking after her daughter Cali, (Zoe Soul) and sick father Rico (John Beasley), and an unnamed man only referred to as Sergeant (Frank Grillo), out for revenge from someone who wronged him.
Shane and Liz’s car breaks down on their way home, leaving them stuck with nowhere to go, so are on foot in a city overrun with maniacs. Eva and her daughter are forced from their home by some armoured masked men, to be purged, and at the same time Sergeant happens to be passing, and armed to the teeth, has a crisis of conscience and decides to help. After gunning down the men that grabbed Eva and Cali, he takes pity on them and decides to help them, which is where they bump in to Shane and Liz, and Sergeant ends up helping them get through Purge night.
With the situation set, the film then starts to play out like an homage to classic movies like The Warriors, The Running Man and Escape From New York, but without an ounce of humour. With the characters trying to get to refuge, one situation after another arises, hindering their progression, be it snipers, gangs, weirdoes or mysterious, armed HGV’s. It’s actually quite reminiscent of several video games. Take out bad guys, progress to next location, take out next lot of bad guys, but in a different manner, proceed to under ground area, rinse, repeat, with the occasional arena battle thrown in for good measure. If Michael Biehn was playing the lead (though lets not take anything away from Grillo, he does a great job) and it had a dark synth score ala most classic John Carpenter movies, this film would be a stone cold 80’s classic. But given it’s new and they’ve gone with the now worn out Zimmer-lite score, which is to be expected these days.
The subtext of the first film is basically a subplot in this one, with its commentary on gun control and the wealthy being even more on the nose than before. All aside, it is an enjoyable action thriller. It’s not quite the Punisher-esque vigilante movie the trailer makes it out to be, but the set pieces and the tension make it an enjoyable film, with Grillo, making a great turn as a grizzled action hero, even though a surprising amount of the cast live to tell the tale. It misses a few tricks given the concept, and isn’t as grim as it potentially could have been, but it’s far and away better than the original, and if you think of it as an honourary 80’s action movie, you’re in for a great time.