By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Last year’s The Purge promised a night of “cleansing” violence, chaos and mayhem, but really only gave us a taste of what an insane night of unbridled inhumanity would offer. Instead, audiences were served an unoriginal and rather silly and dull home invasion scenario. This year’s sequel promises to deliver what the first installment failed to give us, but for all of its promises of subversive turmoil, the scenarios in the film feel rather tame and uninspired. There is an intensity and urgency in the film that does take hold, and an interesting variety of characters, but the end result is a film that never completely delivers on its promises of madness.
In 2023 (a year after the events of the first film), the annual Purge is set to begin and the people of Los Angeles have begun their preparations. The Purge is an annual event where, for 12 hours, the government legalizes all crime, and all law enforcement and emergency services are unavailable. The government enacted this tradition for the purpose of reducing/eliminating crime and the statistics have proven it effective. Couple Liz and Shane ( Zach Gilford, Kielle Sanchez) have plans to travel to Shane’s sister’s home to remain safe for the night; however, their car breaks down at the start time of the purge. Targeted by a masked gang, they flee on foot. Mother and daughter, Eva and Cali (Carmen Ejogo, Zoe Soul) believe they are safe in their apartment until a team of heavily armed people raid the building. Finally, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) embarks into the city with a special agenda of his own. Heavily armed and skilled in combat, Leo reluctantly agrees to help Liz, Shane, Eva and Cali, but remains undaunted in accomplishing his mission before the night’s end.
Written and directed by James DeMonaco, who wrote and directed the first film, The Purge: Anarchy is a big improvement on its predecessor, but nevertheless feels so tame and restrained in comparison with other similarly themed films. I am uncertain if a director’s cut or unrated version will be available when released on video, but the version being released in theaters lacks a much-needed shock factor. A movie which should disturb and petrify its audience comes across so watered down and rote. DeMonaco also attempts to disconcert his audience with some macabre humor, but these scenes lack bite. As I stated before, there is some intensity in the action sequences, and DeMonaco nicely builds up suspense and tension. The experience isn’t a total bore, but when compared to recent films by South Korean filmmakers such as Chan-wook Park (Oldboy) and Kim Ji-woon (I Saw the Devil), this film lacks the power to perturb.
DeMonaco also makes some questionable writing and directing choices that often negate his intentions and come across as silly. I guess it’s really bad when I found myself laughing at the death of one of the main characters. The timing and circumstances of this moment are so ludicrous that I couldn’t help cracking up. Another problem I have involves the perpetuation of racial and cultural stereotypes. Without giving too much of the story away, one particular culture gets labeled as being violent and another gets pigeon-holed as a violent activist group, with the leader (Michael K. Williams) hamming it up as vocal militant. These silly tropes had me rather annoyed.
So, probably at this point one is thinking, why is my rating so generous? In addition to the effective suspense and tension, I rather liked the interaction of the characters and the powerful performance of Frank Grillo. Ever since the movie Warrior, I became a fan of this charismatic, but badass, roughneck actor. In this film, Grillo gets to show much more dramatic range and he pulls it off well. For all his character’s badassery, Grillo gives him much heart and it is a heart that is wounded. The reveal of his character’s mission is a bit prosaic, but Grillo’s performance maintains the gravity of the situation.
The film also features solid performances by Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, and Zoe Soul. In addition to Grillo, these actors bring much love and heart to their characters. The supporting cast includes Justina Machado, Jack Conley, John Beasley, Michael K. Williams, and Noel Gugliemi. Most of these actors either get little to do in their scenes (Machado, Beasley) or have silly writing that gets enhanced by overacting (Conley, Williams, Gugliemi). The nameless and faceless masked villains merely look menacing because of their masks, but don’t really have anything memorable to offer in terms of performance.
Had it not been for the performances of Frank Grillo and the rest of the leading cast, along with some well-executed action sequences, this movie would not be all that memorable either. My recommendation for my readers is to wait to rent this movie or watch it on cable/satellite. There is no need to spend 12 dollars to watch this on the big screen. As for Frank Grillo, I do hope that his performance here gets recognized by other filmmakers and this leads to other major roles. Some of my colleagues and I agree that he would make a great casting choice for another Punisher movie. He has the charisma and intensity to pull it off.