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Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Purge: Anarchy Review: Smart Thriller Elevates This Killfest

The Purge: Anarchy is a smart thrillride that elevates its own game.

I've spoken to you several times of the renaissance that's been occurring in horror films: once a place only for slasher and cheap scares, the genre has evolved by returning to the creation of terror and uncertainty as the engines that fuel these new machines. Films like The Conjuring and Sinister are recent examples; but The Purge: Anarchy can now happily align itself to these well-built submissions, generating plenty of terror without necessarily needing to show it.

With the ninth anniversary of The Purge - a single evening in which anyone can murder another without going to prison - about to get underway, we learn of three different groups struggling to survive it. Liz (Kiele Sanchez) and Shane (Zach Gilford) become the hunted when their car breaks down on the way home, while mother Tanya (Justina Machado) and daughter Cali (Zoƫ Soul) are nearly murdered before a grieving father (Frank Grillo) intervenes. He's on a Purge himself, hoping to exact revenge but doesn't consider these victims on his hit list, and thus the couples join together in a desperate effort to stay alive, with their guardian angel at the lead. But soon, the stakes for our team become higher than they can imagine, as the rules of The Purge itself evolves, leading everyone to re-evaluate the meaning of the day while facing off in a deadly final act.

Writer/Director James DeMonaco has crafted two stories within Anarchy: one of revenge for Grillo's character, the other a stinging condemnation of The Purge itself. He makes the evening both a night of terror but also one of rebellion, as residents begin to fight against The Purge by rescuing those accidentally caught up in it. This is a smart move by DeMonaco, as yet another survival/slasher fest would have yielded diminishing returns. He also adds much more depth to the event itself, including the various ways certain people (ie, the rich) entertain themselves on such a violent evening. This alternative universe - one in which murder is not only allowed but celebrated - is fascinating, as citizens constantly announce their 'right to purge' as given by the New Founding Fathers. The media campaign has followed suit, complete with themed posters and press releases celebrating the release of the film, lending a heightened sense of realism to things.

Under the hood, DeMonaco elevates his own game by eliminating the plot holes which ran the original to ground and filling the screen with plenty of likable characters. Chief among the additions is Grillo, who plays the anti-hero with a calm grace that hides a year full of suffering in an effort to prepare for his one chance at revenge. We can see the pain in his face as he prepares for his mission, then gets involved in rescuing the others, and makes a final impressive decision when it comes to eliminating his target. Grillo is adding to an already impressive resume that includes Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the SJF favorite The Grey. He's a star on the rise, and I hope his performance here will convince others of the same.

The remaining characters have plenty of stories to tell as well, including John Beasley as Papa Rico, whose 'services' are hired by a wealthy family and whose death will allow Eva and Cali to escape their ghetto neighborhood. Liz and Shane are dealing with their own issues Pre-Purge and this takes up a lot of the first act without slowing things down. It's these lead-ups that set the stage for a more meaningful Anarchy, including the resistance movement headed by Michael K. Williams, whom we last saw in the rebooted Robocop. His message that purging is wrong and only benefits the rich is played out quite well here, setting up an inevitable third act as more and more people fight the movement rather than joining it. There's quite a reveal early on in the film that I won't spoil, but know that it blows away the audience's impression of what The Purge actually means - this twist is just another reason why this follow-up feels so much more mature.

The Purge: Anarchy still has the fingerprints of a B-thriller/horror flick, as the masses of beaten, run-over, and otherwise desecrated bodies are plentiful. But in terms of story and characters, Anarchy is a vast improvement over the original, with a likable anti-hero and plot twist thrown in to carry this into an intriguing part 3. And let's hope there is a part 3, for the genre needs more thrillrides like this one.

The Purge: Anarchy is Rated R for strong disturbing violence, and for language and has a runtime of 103 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


Aaron Jones July 17, 2014 at 9:49 PM  

I really liked this movie. It's the Purge movie I wanted to see when the idea was first introduced a.few years back. Grillo is great.

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