The Annual Purge… ‘Murrica! Frank Grillo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez and Michael K. Williams star in The Purge: Anarchy.
Director – Jason DeMonaco
Screenplay – Jason DeMonaco
Producer – Jason Blum, Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller & Sebastien K. Lemercier
Rated R for strong disturbing violence, and for language
As shown in the previous film, The Purge is one night in the year where all crime, including murder, is legal in order to “cleanse” the city. All hospitals, police stations, fire departments and poison control centers are closed down for 12 hours. In 2023, a year after The Purge of 2022, Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) are driving Shane’s sister’s house in Los Angeles to wait out the Purge. However, their car runs out of gas just as the Purge commences, and they’re forced to flee from masked attackers.
Meanwhile, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) is using his get out of jail free card for the night to get revenge on the man that killed his son, but runs into Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter Cali (Zoe Soul) are running from some assailants that broke into their apartment. He rescues them, and eventually they run into Shane and Liz. Together, they attempt to survive the night.
Last year’s The Purge was one of those films that has a promising premise, but turns out like crap. What was supposed to be an intriguing look at how far society would go if the nation’s crimes were suspended for one night, just ended up being another sucky home invasion thriller. Needless to say, I obviously wasn’t losing my mind in excitement over the inevitable sequel ($89 million box office on a $3 million budget), but – call it low expectations or whatever – I was taken by surprise by how not bad of a time I ended up having.
This film isn’t great by any means, but it’s quite an improvement over its predecessor.
The most obvious improvement is the bigger picture writer/director James DeMonaco provides with the setting (a slightly bigger budget will allow that). Instead of just another home invasion, DeMonaco presents us with more characters with personality and motives, villains that aren’t as horrible as they were in the first and expounds a little bit more on the mythology of The Purge. Plus, unlike the first film where everything came together for weak, inexplicable reasons, DeMonaco brings everyone together in ways that work for this film. Having those central characters brave it out in the streets of L.A., instead of being cooped up inside, adds some excitement, with a few surprises along the way, as well.
Even better, you don’t have to waste your time watching that horrendous first film to get what’s going on here. It’s almost like DeMonaco acknowledges how crappy it was.
Still, though, as much as this is an improved effort, it doesn’t capitalize on that bigger picture as much as it could and should. There are stretches where there’s not much going on, which takes away from the overall sense of dread. That dread is definitely more existent than before, which you didn’t get at all with Ethan Hawke and his family, but a little more bite to the story would’ve helped. Aside from a Warriors-esque group of villains (who have clearer motives this time) and a mysterious leader of another group of guards known as “Big Daddy”, it’s pretty much Frank Grillo and Co. wandering around the City of Angels, which, quite frankly, I find hard to believe. We’re talking about a city that loots and sets the town on fire when the Lakers win a championship. That’s a good day for them, so I’m thinking if the government gives everyone a free pass to do whatever the hell they want, crickets aren’t gonna be heard chirping.
At the very least, we get a strong performance from Frank Grillo. Grillo’s done fine work before in The Grey, End of Watch, Warrior and Disconnect, and also has shown his chops for action in Captain America: The Winter Soldier earlier this year. This won’t go down as a career highlight for him or anything, but Grillo does do a fine job carrying the film as the lead badass on a mission, and God have mercy on anyone that gets in his way. If anything, this role shows he has the potential to be a leading action star given the right role.
It’s a mixed bag as far as the supporting acts are concerned. Real life couple Kiele Sanchez and Zach Gilford don’t really bring much to the table, which isn’t a slight on their talent, but more on the fact their characters are somewhat ho-hum. They make do with what they got, but you certainly don’t buy into them turning into gun-toting badasses when they suddenly have to be. Carmen Ejogo gives a solid performance, despite that her character’s the token worrier for everyone in her group. Zoe Soul, on the other hand, borders on annoying in the type of role Dakota Fanning used to play all the time – the “I’m too smart and sophisticated for my age and I’m gonna let everyone around me known that” girl. Forget the villains, I’m surprised no one in her group, her own mother included, pumped her full of lead just to silence that Chatty Cathy mouth of hers.
There’s still room for improvement, but thanks to a little more ambition from James DeMonaco and a great lead turn from Frank Grillo, The Purge: Anarchy still succeeds in areas the first film didn’t. It’s not great, and it’s certainly nothing you need to rush out and see, but if there’s any trajectory a franchise in the making likes to see, up is better than down, so it’s got that going for it.
I give The Purge: Anarchy a C+ (★★½).