Review: The Purge: Anarchy
PLOT: It's once again time for “The Purge”– a yearly event where, for twelve hours, all crime is legal – even murder. This time, a single mother (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter (Zoe Soul), along with a bickering couple (Kiele Sanchez & Zach Gilford) find themselves at the mercy of the purgers, only to be rescued by a mysterious man (Frank Grillo) who's in the midst of his own, very private, purge.
REVIEW: A lot of credit is due to director James DeMonaco. While he could have easily followed up last year's surprise hit THE PURGE with another home invasion thriller that hit all the same beats as its predecessor, with the sequel he tries something different. Now, instead of confining “The Purge” to a single home, we get to experience the true scale of the event, with the action taking place in downtown Los Angeles as a few regular folks try to survive.
The biggest departure is that while the first movie was still a de-facto horror flick, THE PURGE: ANARCHY is a straight-up action thriller. This is mostly thanks to the introduction of Frank Grillo as a taciturn, anti-hero vigilante, who's using the purge to settle a couple of scores. People have been saying for years that Grillo – with his jet-black hair and intense look – would be ideal as “The Punisher”. DeMonaco and producer Jason Blum must think so as this is probably as close to a full-on Punisher movie as they could have made without getting sued. Clad in black, packing an arsenal, and driving around in an armoured car, he's essentially playing Frank Castle except that he's not wearing a skull on his shirt. If this is Frank Grillo's audition for the part it can't be denied that he nails it.
The idea of turning loose a one-man army into the midst of “The Purge” is actually a cool idea, and ANARCHY is a huge improvement over the not-so-good original. Grillo's got charisma to burn, and he makes for a really cool action hero, being tough and fit, but also not unbelievably larger-than-life. He's more Kurt Russell or Charles Bronson than Steven Seagal, and it's been awhile since we've gotten a real down-to-earth action guy. If nothing else, THE PURGE: ANARCHY should open a lot of doors for him.
Grillo's so cool that it's easy to overlook a lot of ANARCHY's shortcomings. The biggest problem is that the Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez characters never feel anything less than extraneous, with Gilford coming-off as so whiny you'll be eagerly awaiting his demise. Sanchez doesn't come off much better, and their inclusion is utterly pointless. Luckily Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul fare better as the mother/daughter pair Grillo has to protect, even if their sole purpose here is to make Grillo look heroic and soften his rough edges. This is pretty much “action 101” writing, and it would have been cool if DeMonaco had taken a bit less of a by-the-numbers approach, as the premise is still really solid.
The action scenes also tend to get repetitive, with only a cool night-vision battle towards the end really standing out. This might be more of a budgetary issue than a creative one. Hopefully, if this is a success, Blum will invest more into the third film, as with a couple of really dynamic action scenes (to match the dynamic hero) this could have been a real sleeper.
Even still, THE PURGE: ANARCHY is a major leap in quality from the last film, and a surprisingly straight-forward action-thriller, devoid of unconvincing plot twists or cheap scares. It's a totally solid actioner, and a really good showcase for Frank Grillo. Even if you didn't like the first film, this is well worth checking out.