It's Purge Night once again, where all American citizens are legally allowed to indulge in all their worst criminal behaviour for twelve hours and the focus this time is on a group of non-participants who are forced into the mayhem on the streets, with their only hope of survival lying in a man who is out on his own mission of bloody revenge.
What we thought:
I was vaguely aware of the first Purge film when it came out last year but it was one of those film's that somehow managed to entirely pass me by. Interestingly though, while both films are the work of writer/ director James DeMoneco and are both based on the same premise, they are, by all appearances, very different films.
The Purge earned its following by being a quite grizzly home-invasion horror movie, but the Purge: Anarchy only makes use of the whole home-invasion motif for something like ten minutes of its total running time. The rest of the film is primarily an action thriller that occasionally dips over into social satire when it turns its eye towards what the rich do on Purge Night.
The problem though, is that though the film is actually a really well executed thriller, it's nowhere near as comedic or as satirical as it needs to be to make its utterly daft premise work. The idea that criminals would limit themselves to only a single night a year is pretty idiotic by itself, but the idea of legality being the only thing preventing regular people from being barbaric monsters is just impossible to take seriously by anyone but the most misanthropic nihilists.
It's an absurdly stupid premise that would only work if it was treated as pure metaphor or, at the very least, allegory but that it's taken at face value – and seriously at that – only highlights its flaws and constantly detracts from the very good action set pieces that are built around it.
Admittedly, there are times in the film where DeMoneco does embrace the satirical implications of his premise – no more so than in the scenes that concentrate on the V-like character played by the always awesome Michael K Williams – but it's mostly played pretty straight.
The good news though, is that though I never was able to get past the logical and humanist flaws in the film's basic set up, there was still plenty to enjoy in terms of it being a very well handled and nicely controlled white-knuckle thriller and simply an exciting action movie. DeMoneco builds up tension well and he certainly knows how to make the best use of occasionally brutal violence, but it's the stripped down, pacey nature of the action that really makes it work.
Unfortunately, the premise isn't the only thing that lets the film down. Most of the main characters are barely even two-dimensional, with only Frank Grillo and the character he plays, making any real sort of impact and it's really left to Michael K Williams to provide most of the personality in the film. Also, since you don't particularly care about the characters that die any more than you particularly care about those that don't, a number of the theoretically “emotional” scenes fall entirely flat as well.
Still, major flaws or no major flaws, The Purge: Anarchy should satisfy action fans and it's unquestionably an engrossing (if not always for the right reasons) couple of hours at the cinema. The great Purge movie hasn't arrived yet but, considering how quickly DeMoneco seems intent to churn these out, it's entirely possible that we may get that film – presumably Purge 8: Homicidal Boogaloo – sometime next Thursday afternoon.
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