It is said that if you were to fill a transatlantic flight with 200 gorillas, only one or two would be left standing when the plane touched down. The cynical Purge: Anarchy, which depicts the annual night of lawless mayhem in a future America, presumes that we have much in common with our primate ancestors—but does so with scant traces of finesse, not to mention logic, in the premise. Last summer’s original Purge was no masterpiece, but by taking place in one rich family’s barricaded mansion (echoes of Edgar Allan Poe’s splendid, ghastly The Masque of the Red Death), that movie at least tapped into a certain zeitgeist outrage over the one percent’s smug disdain for the underclasses. The sequel loses the big house in the suburbs—and all the satiric utilities that came with it.
Set one year after the first film, The Purge: Anarchy spills its action into the streets of an anonymous urban city (it was evidently shot in Los Angeles) and follows five people who find themselves inexplicably huddled together. They include a fraught woman (unfortunate Kiele Sanchez) and her timid husband (poor Zach Gilford); a tough waitress (forlorn Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter (woeful Zoe Soul); and a glowering man in black (depressed Frank Grillo) with an armored vehicle. Sneaking around the city, the group is hunted by both a machete-wielding motorcycle gang wearing ghoulish masks and a paramilitary squad with Rambo-caliber hardware. The heroes slash and shoot their way through the night—conveniently for them, they are armed with enough ammo to take down the bad guys, whose own bullets, of course, forever miss.
For most of the film, returning writer-director James DeMonaco favors gore and shock inserts of music over the edgy, nasty parody for which the material seems ready made. It’s only in the last twenty minutes—when the five find themselves at an auction where the tuxedo-ed elite pay top dollar to slaughter vagrants and the Barbara Bush-esque hostess waxes ecstatic about the ”delicate trigger and smoothest discharge” of her machine gun—that he boosts the film merrily over the top. When the situation is played totally straight, as it is for eighty percent of the running time, the message is boring: We’d all commit murder, theft and anarchy if only we could. With a narrative as depressively simplistic as that, we do find ourselves identifying with the characters in the movie—counting the minutes until the Purge is over. C-