Released with little fanfare, the original Purge debuted in pole position at the US box office and went on to take almost $90m worldwide. Not too bad for a modestly budgeted horror yarn that – at least on the surface – had little more than Lena Headey, Ethan Hawke and a killer hook.
Fourteen months on, The Purge: Anarchy dispenses with Hawke and Headey but retains the hook – a future America that keeps its citizenry in check by allowing them to be lawless for one night a year. Where the first pic limited its mayhem to one upscale suburb, its follow-up takes it out onto the streets, envisioning a macabre free-for-all in which defenceless innocents are slaughtered by marauding gangs.
Hey, if that doesn’t spell entertainment, we don’t know what does. The problem, however, is that writer/director James DeMonaco appears to have developed some delusions of grandeur since the first film hit paydirt. What made Purge #1 so chilling was the idea that the friendly neighbour you might chat to in the morning would be the vengeful sociopath gunning for you at sundown. Anarchy, alas, squanders the potential of this hellish scenario, picturing instead a more fanciful alt-society where the penniless underclass become human quarry for wealthy indolents.
That’s bad news for gun-toting loner Leo (Frank Grillo) and the four strangers he reluctantly takes under his wing: single mom Eva (Carmen Ejogo), her bolshy daughter Cali (Zoë Soul), and two bickering marrieds (Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez) whose car picked the wrong night to break down. But it’s worse news for a nascent franchise that could do without such woolly sermonising, especially since it revels in the very violence it hypocritically bemoans.
“Get ready to burn, rich bitches!” screams Carmelo (Michael K Williams) as he unloads a clip at some moneyed gargoyles. Frankly, that’s all the social commentary this film needs.
“No stars, more deaths!” would be an apt tagline for a sequel that delivers plenty of bang for your buck but could have done with being a touch more, well, anarchic.