The original Purge film was an unexpected smash hit, likely due to a combination of being released during a slow week at the box office and having a premise that, while never really capitalized on, tricked a lot of people into thinking this generic home slasher was more intellectual than it actually was. Regardless of the reasons, that film’s success spawn a sequel a mere year later in the form of The Purge: Anarchy. And the results are decidedly better this time, so much so that I’m actually willing to call this movie good. It’s still fairly disposable and not really all that memorable, but the political commentary is now front and center in the narrative, which means that the premise is actually being fleshed out to the point where it’s not simply window dressing for a duped audience.
This film follows five characters caught out in The Purge and sees what sorts of intense situations arise when all laws are suspended and everyone has free license to kill and maim as they please. The characters themselves aren’t terribly deep, and the only one that really gets any development is the main hero, a man bent on going out into The Purge to kill the drunk driver who killed his son. He’s the action hero of this escapade, defending the other four normal people as they try to make their way to safety through the night.
The characters aren’t so much the focus though as vehicles through which to show the audience different aspects of The Purge. This includes rich people paying to sacrificially slaughter the elderly and ill, auctioning off the poor to act as prey in human fox hunts, and the government sending out a private army to capitalize on The Purge in order to systematically eliminate the poor and defenseless. If you see a running theme of the naturally predatory nature of capitalism and the transformation of class warfare into a literal slaughter of the poor, that is by no means accidental. Whereas the first film used its premise as an excuse to tell a tiredly clichéd horror narrative, Anarchy opts to be a full-on political commentary, and it’s by no means subtle about it.
And as much as I like that this franchise is moving in that direction, it’s greatest strength ends up cutting against it like an ironically double-edged sword. The franchise has found its calling as a series of political satires, but it doesn’t know what to do beyond being as obvious about it as possible. Being blunt isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the film does feel a little shallow when the depth of the commentary extends to preening rich folks bowing their heads in sacrificial prayer and the lower classes waving guns around proclaiming their rights. If the first film was hesitant to dip its toe in the waters of political satire, this film has dived in head first, only to discover that it has the depth of a kiddy pool.
That said, The Purge: Anarchy is still a fun ride. The action is good, and the commentary is cartoonish, but it’s all in the name of entertainment. And yeah, I was entertained. If this franchise continues, the main route to improvement now lies in actually tying the setting into telling a character-centric story instead of simply demonstrating the potential this setting has to offer. Unlike the first film, I’d say that Anarchy is worthy of a rental, and perhaps a third installment will actually be worthy of unqualified praise.
Any thoughts on the trajectory of The Purge franchise? Let me know in the comments below.