I want to preface my take on The Purge: Anarchy by stating how much the first film annoyed me. The concept of an annual 12 hour time period in which all crime is given a free pass ended up serving as a plot device for a rather weak home invasion flick. The idea of the purge felt like a mere afterthought simply conjured up to justify daft characters chasing each other around in a dark house.
But the sequel wisely forgoes the home invasion aspect and expands on what should have been the focal point to begin with- the annual purge. The Purge: Anarchy opens just a few hours before the commencement of the annual purge. Our leads are introduced amidst the unrest of a city scrambling to prepare for chaos when time is running short. Waitress Eva is struggling to support her daughter, Cali, and her terminal father. Liz and Shane are driving home when their car breaks down just on the edge of downtown. Another man bent on revenge suits up and heads out into the city to join the purge. These characters converge and must band together if they hope to survive the night.
In this outing, viewers witness the purge from the lower class perspective; the poor who can’t afford the extravagant security system seen in the first film. The poor who are tired of falling victim to the rich on purge night. The divide in social classes plays prominently in both social commentary as well as a larger plot thread interwoven throughout but always manages to cut away to a thrilling action sequence before it risks feeling too heavy handed.
Our band of survivors develop into fully realized characters in between thrilling moments of imminent peril as the brushes with death slowly chip away to expose their motivations and desires. While impressive, the characterization is not perfect. Cali is meant as the bridge between the story and the audience, but her constant barrage of questions comes across as grating and idiotic despite being necessary.
The editing for the Purge: Anarchy should be given high praise as well. With so much crammed into a short one hour and forty minute run time, it somehow never feels overcrowded. Each component is entwined in perfect balance, from the reflections on society, character development, to the survival horror aspect. Scenes of horrific pandemonium in the streets are shot and cut in a way that avoids being overly gratuitous while still retaining a sense of terror.
For fans of the first film, and there are many, one character does carry over into the sequel. As this character isn’t revealed in the previews I won’t spoil it other than to say keep your eyes open during the second half of the film.
The people behind last year’s sleeper hit became attuned to audience complaints and took notes. Now, they present us with a sequel that easily erases the bad memories of its predecessor; a sequel that dumps the home invasion angle in favor of a fun action horror story. The sequel has also given me some appreciation for the Purge, as I now see the two as a complementary pair. The first presents the purge from the perspective of the upper class, whereas the Purge: Anarchy shows the purge from the opposite spectrum. Writer Jim DeMonaco accomplished something very rare: creating a sequel far superior to its predecessor. As I’m sure the Purge: Anarchy will do well in the box office, I suspect we’ll see more sequels in the future. But the question is, will they be as fun as this one?