I know — and freely admit — that my take on James DeMonaco’s The Purge: Anarchy is colored by seeing it immediately (walking from Theater Seven to Theater Fourteen at The Carolina is pretty immediate) after suffering through Planes: Fire & Rescue. (Now, there is a movie that’s apt to make, say, The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters look like Citizen Kane.) Like last year’s The Purge, Mr. DeMonaco’s inevitable sequel has a really dopey premise that only works as long as you don’t think about it for longer than ten seconds. The Purge: Anarchy has the slight advantage that it seems to realize its absurdity — and tries to rectify it. It has the greater advantage that it doesn’t turn into a stock home-invasion thriller after 15 minutes. In this kind of horror picture, effectiveness trumps believability every time — and this one’s expansiveness is a lot more effective than watching people stumble around a dark house for an hour.
Like its predecessor, The Purge: Anarchy has something on its mind, and, for better or worse (it may depend on your politics), it’s much more pronounced this time. The first film established the idea that in the not-too-distant future some kind of (apparently bloodless) revolution has taken place, putting the U.S. in the hands of some Tea Partyesque faction calling themselves the New Founding Fathers. The details of this are pretty vague in both films, but the New Founding Fathers have made great strides in eradicating the problems of unemployment and homelessness by instituting “The Purge.” Said Purge is a 12-hour period one night a year where lawlessness reigns. All crime — not involving large weapons and not directed at high-ranking government officials — is legal. The idea is that the upper classes will kill off all those pesky homeless and unemployed folks, and presumably the New Founding Fathers will hand out high-paying contracts to their fat cat corporation buddies to clean up the mess the next day. (This, however, is never actually addressed, since the story doesn’t see any farther than the main mayhem.)
There are so many holes in the concept that it seems foolish to try to catalogue them. The first film just ignored them, assuming that no one would notice the inherent inefficiency of a group of about 10 preppies spending the entire night — and most of its members — to rid the world of one hapless homeless person. At this rate, these folks are going to dispose of themselves before they rid the world of those awful “takers.” The new movie realizes this and makes a cursory attempt to address the issue — mostly by admitting that the government has become involved in “purging” because it wasn’t happening fast enough. (This whole business of using purge as a verb makes it sometimes sound like a bulimics’ convention.)
This attempt at jacking up the believability takes a back seat to the broader canvas of the story this time. It’s not that the business of having a mixed group of potential victims — with one default leader, Sergeant (TV actor Frank Grillo), constantly having to save them — is all that hot. It’s certainly not original, and it’s painfully predictable, but it keeps the film moving and from bogging down in claustrophobia. Better yet, it allows the film to create some fairly creepy scenes and float even creepier ideas and images. It may not be a great movie, but I will remember the image of the hapless old man (TV actor John Beasley) calmly awaiting execution by the rich family he’s sold himself to in their posh home that’s been carefully covered in plastic to prevent the splatter from soiling the furnishings. The whole sequence where the wealthy bid on victims to hunt — victims sold to them by a new class of entrepreneur cashing in on the event — is pretty strong, too. (The business of driving past a young woman who looks like Carrie on her way from the prom is another matter.) The idea of a revolution brewing to counter the New Founding Fathers has merit — and logic — and suggests where this might go. Whether it will (it’s an expensive proposition) is another matter, but it has potential. Rated R for strong disturbing violence, and for language.