In the midst of the summer blockbuster season, films tends to be dumb. Sure, some of them are about vague things; family, love, the meaning of happiness. But they never articulate concepts- they never want to be about anything specific for fear of alienating or offending the general audience. Which is why The Purge: Anarchy is a bit of a welcome change, especially after its sort of prequel was such a disappointing jumble of ideas that never came together to form anything of substance.
Not that you need to have watched the last film to see this one. Those making The Purge films have smartly decided to just have their world, where once a year people are allowed to commit any crime they wish for 12 hours, as a setting for multiple tales. More importantly, it fixes the major problems with the last film. Right off the bat, Anarchy lets you know this film is going to use the premise for something.
The plot of this film is pretty simple, but it keeps you hooked by weaving multiple people and their motivations together. A middle class couple find themselves trapped outside on the night of the Purge pursued by a gang, whilst a mother and daughter are forced out of their apartment block by a mysterious SWAT like group who arrive in unmarked trucks. Linking these groups together is Frank Grillo (his character name I forgot about 5 mins in, which makes almost no difference in a film like this), a distraught father looking for revenge and armed to the teeth. He decides to take pity upon the other characters and save them, in the process incurring the ire of the mysterious group and their leader “Big Daddy”. So off they set, Frank determined to see he gets his revenge, whilst sticking to his promise to keep the others safe on the most dangerous night of the year.
Ok, perhaps my earlier statement was a bit untrue. The Purge: Anarchy is kinda dumb at times, but in a fun way that accepts its central premise as silly, but that never undercuts the tone the film is going for. Part of why the film works is its cast. Though the script doesn’t give each character much depth, it’s the three central performances by Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejog and Zoë Soul that resonate, the actors each adding depths to characters that on paper may not add up to much. Grillo is understated but slowly the film warms us to him, whilst Ejog and Soul give credible performances as a mother and daughter who, though stuck in a bad situation, are switched on and determined to survive the night. Its only our couple that are the letdown, and were it not for a plot point that relies on them being in the film, I would have much rather just spent more time with the three other characters as the don’t really contribute much.
A summer film unafraid to talk about hot topics such as the banking crisis, the “1%” and how social mobility is breaking down mixed with B- movie sensibilities is a winner. It’s also surprisingly subversive in some of the choices it makes and even attempts some minor (but unobtrusive) world building. Even if at times its message was a bit on the nose, these touches endeared the film to me.
So go watch The Purge: Anarchy. As characters in the film repeatedly say, it’s your god given duty.