Director: James DeMonaco
Writer: James DeMonaco
Cinematographer: Jacques Jouffret
by Jon Cvack
I rushed to grab The Purge: Anarchy after finishing The Purge. Ladies and gentlemen, we have another winner for one of the greatest horror sequels (1st place being Bride of Frankenstein, 2nd going to Friday the 13th III, Third to Saw III). Essentially, this film took a lot of the cool possibilities you imagine when watching the first film and explores them with a much larger budget.
The story revolves around the next year’s Purge, centering around three different characters 1) a mysterious man, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), who plans to avenge his murdered son; 2) a married couple, Shane and Liz (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez), that’s decided to get a divorce, and 3) an inner city mother, Evan Sanchez (Carmen Emogo) who’s trying to make ends meet, while taking care of her daughter, Cali Sanchez (Zoe Soul) and ailing father. It really doesn't get much more tropey than the first ten minutes of this film, with Leo Barnes as the tough stoic sort who lives in an apartment with nothing in it and the couple getting introduced talking around the fact that they’re getting divorce. As I was telling a friend, in regards to the latter, dialogue that talks around a subject rather than either showing or just getting it out of the way by telling it is really starting to get under my skin. For example, the way we learn about their separation is by the melancholic look on both their faces, “You tell her yet?” Shane asks. “No, I was thinking of next week,” Liz responds. “You really should let your sister know”...and so on! Hmm. I wonder what they could be talking about? If the most creative way you can reveal information is by having them driving in a car and talking around a subject in a very obvious and roundabout manner then I say either get right to it or place the scene somewhere else. Leo the Mysterious Man has the same problem, where we know he’s probably either a really bad or very virtuous person, and if the latter, it probably involves a family member. I really get annoyed seeing the writers patting themselves on the back for ‘showing’ rather than telling.
Okay, now with that tangent out of the way and those cringey first ten minutes gone, we get deeper into the mythology of The Purge, which again, is some of the most fascinating in the horror genre since Saw. I’m not sure why all horror anthologies don’t follow the lead of what has demonstrably worked so well. Don’t just create a new story, build out from the existing materials and add to the mythology. In this case, we get two new ideas working.
The first involves the fact that the rich are using The Purge as a way to rid the world of the poor and resolve the endless social welfare programs. As an added bonus, and to demonstrate their good intentions, they are willing to buy victims for their wealthy compatriots to hunt down and kill. In this case, it involves Evan’s father, whose prescription drug costs are sky high. As a result, he sells his life for $100,000 to a rich couple to help relieve his family’s debts. Secondly, is that there have now developed factions of all types, varying from those who hunt down victims that they can then sell to the rich (more on that later), to those who have begun to organize as an anti-Purge (or anti-New Founding Fathers), and wish to reform the holiday and/or law in order to prevent the mass slaughter and exploitation of the poor (led by Michael K. Williams of The Wire in probably one of the coolest follow up roles for a tv character).
Counter to this revolt are the well financed bounty hunters who drive around in cube trucks with full body armor and gatling guns accompanied with cutting edge surveillance technology that’s tapped into LA’s urban camera system. Their purpose is to capture as many individuals as possible and bring them to an auction, where the city’s richest citizens can bid on their ability to hunt them down in some type of artsy warehouse.
It’s the evolving mythology of the film that opens up such ripe possibilities that I’m sure - and hope - will produce around nine sequels, if horror history franchise has demonstrated anything. My expectation is that both the individual factions will become an increasingly important part of the story, specifically the uprising that hopes to end The Pure altogether. It’s a difficult film to compare to others, as it blends together action, horror, and gore, with some cool characters that will continue to press the boundaries. While the first took place in the suburbs, and the second in the city, I’d be interested to see a rural version of The Purge, in which a small town deals with its own unknown prejudices that finally come out.
Yet beyond all that, is a very interesting look into a dystopic future, in which the wealthy are able to buy and execute life at their leisure. In the film, unemployment and poverty levels are down on account of most of these individuals being killed. So what happens when there’re no more to kill? Who do they turn to? Questions of class and wealth, the ethics of murder and governance, and the ways in which to reform this system seem to be exaggerations of our current political landscape, where inequality is on the rise, with politicians saying they’re pro-life while trying to defund the programs that the increasingly larger volume of poor have become more dependent upon. The liberalization of gun laws is making murder permissible with stand your ground laws, where individuals no longer need to retreat in order to avoid bloodshed, but can rather kill upon feeling immediately threatened on their property.
The Purge is an exaggeration of all these issues, and that’s what makes it so fascinating. I can’t await for the third (I have not yet seen The Purge: Election Year). One thing you can’t help compare is this film to the mass shootings where individuals dress up in costumes - Darth Vader in the Trollhattan attacks, the Joker in Aurora shooting, etc. I even saw came across this picture as I’m writing this. In many ways, I think that the split between whether you see this as action or horror is how willingly you’d participate (whether as the killer, or as a defender of the indefensible). If you’re terrified of the whole idea it’s a horror film, if it’s an exciting idea it’s an action film, and of course there’s a little bit in-between. As gun laws become increasingly lax and the far right increasingly more significant in our governing, cutting social programs to the poor as a result, I wonder where everyone fits on this hypothetical day. It’s an interesting thought experiment. I can’t wait for where Election Year takes it.
BELOW: Similar to Aliens compared to Alien, Anarchy turns the film toward action
Thoughts on films, old and new
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