Perhaps the most unlikely Blumhouse Productions horror franchise,The Purge features no spectral door slammers (Insidious, Paranormal Activity, Sinister etc), instead 2013’s low budget Ethan Hawke-starrer was a creepy near future home invasion horror from James DeMonaco, the writer of 2013’s underrated Assault On Precinct 13 remake.
The sequel may have emerged suspiciously quickly, but just as quickly those suspicious dissipate like day-trippers before the Purge Night klaxon. Drawing closer to his John Carpenter influences, DeMonaco drops the horror altogether for a more classically inclined action thriller against the backdrop of a poisoned utopia.
It may have been an unlikely Blumhouse franchise, but the central conceit itself lent itself well to a series; in a faintly fascistic near future, murder becomes legal for one night a year. In The Purge this was an excuse to terrorise a family with a few simple twists on the home invasion formula, nods to contemporary security fears and a hefty Good Samaritan allegory.
The Purge: Anarchy ups the stakes considerably – there’s a home invasion to kick things off, but the movie quickly becomes a survival trek across the lawless city streets, like Escape From New York by way of The Warriors as a disparate handful of people in the wrong place at the wrong time put their trust in Frank Grillo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, End Of Watch)’s inscrutable vigilante.
Grillo is absolutely captivating in his brooding physicality – half nameless Western gunslinger, half Frank Castle. The rest of the cast – not so much, with Zach Gilford (Friday Night Lights)’s Shane and Kiele Sanchez (Lost)’s Liz coming straight from the cliché casting as Middle Class White Couple In Peril, while Carmen Ejogo’s Eva is better in terms of her meaty role and her nuanced delivery, her character is similarly shackled by stereotype as Hardworking Latina Single Mom.
The budget is three times that of the first film’s lean $3 million, but it feels ten times higher with gorgeous sweeping panoramas of deserted streets and headlamps gliding down empty highways, and wonderful incidental colour – a religious fanatic ranting through her loud-hailer as she blasts passers-by, a crucified stockbroker, a gang of masked brats (the ones in the trailer who look like rap-metal band Hollywood Undead)
The message at the heart of the movie is equally inflated and after the effective thriller of the first two thirds, The Purge: Anarchy swerves headlong into its own subtext and everything takes a turn for the downright daft.
Throughout we’re teased with people’s myriad opinions on Purge Night – often delivered with all the deftness of the “gentrification” speech in Boyz N The Hood – and the pirate broadcasts of Carmelo Jones (The Wire and Boardwalk Empire‘s Michael K Williams) urging people to fight back.
Suddenly, our heroes are right in the middle of a class war with tweed-clad upper crust débutantes hunting them across a walled garden. Then Carmelo’s rebels burst in with the simple message of opposing Purge Night by, er, using the impunity offered by Purge Night to shoot the rich. It’s cartoonish, shaking you out of the tension that’s been spooling up around the core cast, and its politics are lurking somewhere between Frank Miller’s wet dreams and the Early Learning Centre -isms of The Hunger Games.