The high concept at the center of The Purge: Anarchy and its predecessor should make for better drivel than this, but it very definitely doesn’t, and again these are movies whose lofty ideas nosedive in execution to die brutally on the screen. Whatever ascribable value The Purge franchise holds is housed entirely outside of the films themselves, and this particular iteration does nothing to change that fact. A smart genre film is buried somewhere in the ruins of this never-built monstrosity, wayway down there, but the end product is so uninspiring there is little reason to root through the garbage to unearth it. The characters, plot, and content of Anarchy are eminently forgettable, like shadow puppets dramatizing non-events without backlighting, and any mind lingerers that survive to the parking lot post-movie are remnants of what brought you there in the first place: the arguably great idea behind this inarguably bad thing. The most memorable part of the whole ordeal, if any memorability exists at all, is how beholden a movie about lawlessness can be to its genre’s laws. United we sigh.
The biggest question left unanswered by the original Purge was something along the lines of, “What the fuck is happening everywhere else?” Theoretically, Anarchy should have answered this. Its scope is wider, its budget bigger. Its cast is larger and more diverse. The “action” isn’t limited to the Crate+Barrel interior of a single McMansion. Ethan Hawke’s 1%er is dead; now it’s time to see how the other half Purges. Enter a grizzled mumbler in trench coat, urging for the cathartic purging. Enter struggling waitress and spunky daughter, emerging to complicate his purging. Enter on-the-rocks white couple, merging into their already complicated purging. Throw these ingredients into your Purge mixer and marvel at the devastating dullness of the results. A more entertaining movie would at least engender enough disdain for its empty characters to hope for their demise; not so in Purgetown. Backstory for these characters constitutes pregnant stares at black-and-white Facebook photos. Never are they more complex than when they’re pointing at a gushing bullet wound to exclaim, “You’ve been shot!” Except when they’re pointing at a dead body to exclaim, “They’re dead!” Except, of course, when they reiterate, for the umpteenth, brain-smiting time that, “The Purge is tonight!” Oh, is it?
Glimpses of the buried potential do manage to crop up here and there, though they are promptly allocated the proper garbage to be reburied. A sick elderly man sells himself on eBay to a family of Purge-happy Romneyan WASPs, who pay his surviving relatives $100,000 in exchange for his life. Street vendors line the sidewalks in the hours leading up to The Purge, hawking Uzis for the scared and plain company for the lonely. Our heroes stumble into an underground auction house where a Lychian auctioneer sells the poor into The World’s Most Dangerous Game. Concentrating on any one of these scenarios, expanding on the warped psychologies in this fundamentally not-that-different US, would have made for a much slower, better movie. It also would have made for a less violent one, which apparently cannot happen in the world of The Purge.
At its heart, The Purge: Anarchy‘s greatest failing is a misunderstanding of its own high concept. It sets itself up to be a commentary on violence, how the audience’s hunger for The Purge mirrors the characters’ hunger for The Purge, and yeah, yeah, Americans must shine a yeah, yeah light on this deep dank corner of their yeah, yeah psyches. In the event the audience could delight in the violence on screen, this would be sound, if trite, commentary. But the violence is the most boring part of The Purge: Anarchy; the movie is at its most engaging when it’s least violent. If The Purge has to be something more than a high concept, it should next time around concentrate on the world that sanctions the violence it wants so badly to critique. Where the rich and the governing have outed themselves as one in the same. Where the upper class’s implicit war on the lower class has finally been made explicit. Where, for one day a year, the violence we know ourselves capable of can be imagined and thus made real. Isn’t that The Purge we deserve?
Strawberry Verdict: 2 Strawberries out of 5