Friday, July 18, 2014

“The Purge: Anarchy” – The Sequel: Next

In last year’s The Purge, we were introduced to a very intriguing concept – for twelve hours, one day a year, all laws and emergency services are suspended and people are allowed to do whatever they want. The reason for the Purge is to allow people to vent a year’s worth of frustration in order to keep crime and unemployment low for the rest of the year. Then, we got stuck in a house with Ethan Hawke because a crappy writer thought the Purge was just a convenient explanation for why cops never show up when a murderer is slaughtering a house full of people. In other words, it was a Home Alone-ish slasher flick all but ignoring a cool idea in favor of featuring a few preppie douche bags in masks and insisting that was clever. Based on the previews, The Purge: Anarchy appeared to have addressed that problem, though kept the dopey masks.

If you are hoping to find out what happens next to Hawke and family, you will be sorely disappointed, as Anarchy wisely acts as if the first film was just some random anecdote or never happened at all. The title itself is disappointing (and wildly uncreative), not seeming to refer to anything in particular since the Purge, by its very definition, is sanctioned anarchy. As Kevin Pollack once joked about the titling of Grumpier Old Men – “A think tank from Mensa came up with that name.”

(Obligatory SPOILER warning. I won’t reveal who dies, but I will reveal the more interesting components of the movie, because that's what makes this movie both good and bad. If you only care about watching people murder each other, you won't care anyway.)

Anarchy begins by introducing us to five people who are going to be our subjects of interest, though only one of them is actually interesting. There’s Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter Cali (Zoe Soul), living together with Eva’s father and struggling to get by. There’s Liz (Kiele Sanchez) and her boyfriend Shane (Zach Gilford), a yuppie-ish couple having relationship issues and mulling over a separation. Finally, there’s Sergeant (Frank Grillo), a guy who meet gearing up for the Purge with a corkboard full of newspaper clippings on the wall over shoulder. Guess who the interesting one is? I don’t want you to think that only 20% of this movie is interesting, quite the opposite in fact. Each of the three groups of people is a vehicle for an interesting component to the overarching theme that is the Purge and is displayed through the way in which they each end up on the streets during the Purge. As a bonus, none of them end up on the streets because of the typical stupidity displayed by victims in slasher flicks (though, it’s not without those clichés – one of the female characters will trip over nothing while being chased by a baddie).

To begin with, Liz and Shane get caught out on the road when their car breaks down. They quickly discover that someone sabotaged their car and those someones are chasing them (and wearing those pointless masks I mentioned). Liz and Shane could literally be anyone, which is why they are so uninteresting. Their relationship strife is just a weak attempt at development, but, again, doesn’t matter to the plot at all. They could be the happiest couple ever and it wouldn’t change anything they do or say throughout the rest of the night. What is interesting is the saboteurs are chasing them because they are being paid by rich people to catch and deliver victims for said rich people to hunt in a game-like arena. If you’ve ever seen the film Surviving the Game or read the story it is based on (The Most Dangerous Game), you know how interesting it is to delve into how far humans will go to get a thrill from hunting. Incidentally, the best scene in the film is related to this concept.

Then, we have Eva and Cali, again two people who could be anybody. We’re supposed to feel sorry for them and root for them to survive because they’re poor and using all their money on medicine for Eva’s dad, except that becomes moot when dad sneaks out of the house having sold himself to some rich people to quench their need to Purge, simultaneously providing a large sum of money to the girls. In completely unrelated news, they are forced out of their apartment building by apparent paramilitary troops who drag them in front of a semi to be mowed down by what looks like a butcher with a minigun. As you can see, the back story we get has literally nothing to do with any event for the rest of the movie, and again, the guys in paramilitary garb and minigun wielding butcher are far more intriguing than the two women.

At this point in the film, the five people come together. Sergeant sees the two women and decides to intervene and Liz and Shane take refuge in Sergeant’s car while he is saving the women. After the action, Sergeant tells them he will take them to Eva’s friend’s house as long as he gets the friend’s car to take care of whatever revenge business he appears to be on. The rest of the film is the five of them running through the death trap that is Los Angeles on Purge night, but again, that’s not what’s interesting. What is interesting (that the last film completely lacked) is that we finally get to explore some of the things that people do when there are no repercussions – revenge and vigilantism (and not just for Seargeant), the rich paying poor people for the right to kill them, government conspiracies to cull the population in conjunction with the rich, powerful, and elite, and…wait, what? Ahhhh – now we’re getting somewhere.

Early in the film, Cali is watching a web video of Carmelo (Michael K. Williams) ranting about how the Purge is exactly what I just said it was – a subversive way for the upper class to keep the lower class in its place and he and his followers were going to fight back on this Purge night. Unfortunately, this thread is barely pulled at all, as you will only see them one more time in the entire film and keeps this film from being better than just an okay movie. Demolition Man walked the same path, but did a much better job of developing and integrating it into the world created by the film.

If I was going to describe this movie in one word, it would be prologue. All of the small stories were compelling and made for great scenes, but seemed more like teases to a much larger story that movie only hints at. Who is Carmelo really and who is pulling the strings and coordinating those troops? Who really is benefitting from the Purge? Who is that old lady auctioneer at the hunting facility? Wait, scratch that last one; I got carried away a little bit.

The film itself is a much better movie that its predecessor, though the acting and dialogue this time around were on the level of one of the SyFy monster movies. What’s kind of funny is that both were written and directed by the same guy – James DeMonaco – and deserves as much kudos for making a good film this time around as he does ridicule for making a waste of a film the last time. Hopefully James is thinking the same thing I am – best two out of three?

Rating: Ask for three dollars back as no prologue is worth full price.

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