Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zac Gilford
Directed by: James DeMonaco (“The Purge”)
Written by: James DeMonaco (“The Purge”)
The 2013 film “The Purge” began with an interesting concept—all crime is legal in the United States for a 12-hour period on one day a year—but was ultimately undone by its small scale and over-reliance on weirdness to convey menace. Even at a scant hour and 25 minutes, the film routinely dragged to a halt with the narrative limited to one family locked inside one house while weirdos in masks lurked outside, speaking in archly polite platitudes while threatening to kill the family if they don’t give up a man they took in.
The sequel, “The Purge: Anarchy,” expands the scope and setting by stranding five people in the middle of Los Angeles during the annual Purge, the virtuousness of which is extolled by the mysterious New Founding Fathers. The group, consisting of a lone wolf out for vengeance (Frank Grillo), a mother (Carmen Ejogo) and daughter (Zoe Saul) dragged from their home, and a couple (Zac Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) left stranded by a broken-down car, attempt to survive the night while being pursued by a well-armed militia in tractor-trailer trucks who seem to know their every move.
While the larger playground helps “Anarchy” overcome the claustrophobic trappings the first film fell into, the sequel ultimately provides more of the same when it comes to people running for their lives. “Anarchy” attempts to expand the mythology as well, with lukewarm results. As set up in the first film, the United States collapsed into ruin (relatively speaking—nothing looks post-apocalyptic) only to be brought back to life by a group known as The New Founding Fathers. Not much is presented about how they restored the U.S. to prominence other than The Purge. With “Anarchy,” we see the first glimpse of one of the New Founding Fathers (surprise: he’s an old white guy) along with the not-subtle revelation that they are behind the small armies roaming the streets, killing the poor to thin out the population to benefit the rich, something “Snowpiercer” already did earlier this month with much more satisfying results.
One more aspect of the world-building the filmmakers’ are doing indicates we’re in for the long haul when it comes to “Purge” movies: Michael K. Williams’ anti-Purge revolutionary Carmelo looms large over most of the film, only to show up at the end with no resolution. Hiring an actor of Williams’ medium star caliber—who is clearly riffing on Samuel L. Jackson—with a fate left up in the air seems to point to the character living to fight another day in whatever comes next for the series. If “Anarchy” is any indication, were just in for more of the same.