Dir: James DeMonaco
Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoe Soul, Justina Machado, John Beasley, Michael K Williams and Jack Conley
In a future America, for one night a year, all crime, including murder, is legal. Three intersecting stories combine together as five doomed souls try to survive the night and The Purge.
The surprising success to the tune of $89 million global box office of the first Purge film, released just last year, saw the inevitable sequel get streamlined into production with the pungent whiff of a new franchise looming.
Whilst the second half of the first film nosedived into a well below par home invasion horror, it is worth remembering that the central premise is a big hook and by far the most successfully scary element was depicting a near future America that had just accepted and even sang the praises of all the good the Purge did for the nation.
Taking the wise move to not simply redo the same story but with a different family, writer and director, James DeMonaco leads the sequel onto the streets of urban warfare in Los Angeles. In doing this, the film is able to give a much broader and more interesting perspective of the Purge that was merely glimpsed in the first film. Come the start of the Purge this time, there’s a fantastic montage of many groups suiting up in their own brand of novel costumes, each looking more intimidating than the last. The film’s subheading of Anarchy is appropriate as the film looks at the Purge from a ground level of essentially average people “freeing the beast” one night a year as opposed to the frighteningly organised and meticulous of Rhys Wakefield’s motley crew of stabby snobs.
It has to be said that whilst the trailers gave the impression that the film was going to more than just slightly influenced by the brilliant ‘The Warriors’ ie. group of individuals have to fight their way across a city beset on all sides by various colourfully attired gangs etc, the film successfully avoids any direct comparisons, for the most part. With a plot that sees a terrifyingly dictatorial government enforcing blood sport to suppress the masses, however, the similarities with The Hunger Games and Battle Royale remain unshakeable.
In place of the doomed yuppie family from the first film, here we have three separate stories that end up coming together to try to bring some varying backgrounds to the table. As a result of this, we get a mother with her daughter and a soon to be separated couple who combine to make four of the most dull and uninteresting characters ever seen in a horror film.
With profoundly wooden acting, even in particularly tense situations, their facial expressions and line delivery would suggest that they find this whole Purge thing rather a nuisance and would prefer it to stop now if that’s quite alright. It is simply impossible to be invested in their plight when they just seem so non-committal and simply eyeing the pay check waving tantalisingly at them just out of shot. Perhaps they’re not entirely to blame, however, the script is beyond clunky and much of the dialogue consists of characters stating the bleeding obvious exposition or saying what is happening onscreen in case the audience is too thick to realise what they’re watching.
With this in mind, it makes it all the more evident that the film would have been far better if it had focused solely on Grillo’s Sergeant character. A man driven to feel the need to take part in the Purge after the man responsible for his son’s death was allowed to walk free. From this set-up, the film could have just been based on his dark journey and the audience could have been allowed to make up their own minds as to whether or not he was justified in his actions, rather than having the irritating side-characters constantly nagging at him that what he’s doing is wrong. On top of this, he has a slick-looking reinforced car, is deadly with weapons and is pure, gruff anti-hero bad-ass material, seriously, why on earth isn’t this film just about him?!
It is clear that the central idea behind the film was supposed to be the notion of the power of the 1% of Americans and there are two all too brief but superbly captured sequences in which this comes to the fore and where the film is at its chilling and most effective. The allusions to the grip the New Founding Fathers now have on the country are fascinating and the idea of the extreme right wing’s wet dream come true is a genuinely frightening concept. The brief glimpses we get of the wealthy and powerful are delightfully skin-crawling as DeMonaco puts great effort into showing how beneath the plastic surgery and haute couture, there is little to no humanity left in them.
The brief moments when the light of what the film perhaps could be sadly get snuffed out by the arguably quite tame violence, featuring some overtly CGI blood splatterings usually reserved for lower budget fare. There is also the general feel of an almost videogame-like structure, where the hero has to get from point A to B, the baddies get tougher and tougher and the added crutch of an escort mission slows the whole thing down and just becomes tiresome. On top of this, there are several moments when things just get a little too ridiculous, most notably Michael K Williams’ hilarious over-acting as the resistance leader (fighting the violence of the Purge with…more violence) and when one character gets pumped full of lead, the reaction of genuine surprise in other character pronouncing, “Jesus Christ…she’s dead!” damn near brought the house down with giggles
Where The Purge differs from other modern-day franchises is that there are conceivably many different angles that sequels could take without running the risk of simply being more of the same. Between the two films, a whole number of intriguing ideas are raised but in each case, DeMonaco seems to favour a greater focus on the more linear and perhaps easier path of unchallenging and crowd-pleasing violence. Perhaps, if a third film is in the offing, DeMonaco could spread his creative wings a bit and focus on the bigger picture of the New Founding Fathers or the religious element that fuels some Purgers. Until then, The Purge films remain somewhat of a frustration in that there is so much potential on display only to see it watered down for lots of helpings of the old ultraviolence.
Verdict: A sequel of equality rather than superiority. There is a great film to be made based on the Purge concept; it’s just that neither film has really been it so far. 4/10