The truth is, a lot of horror movies could be avoided with the proper application of dobermans and German shepherds. The Purge: Anarchy is one of these movies, a supersized home invasion/midnight chase thriller in which a near-future U.S. government practices population control by allowing the annual 12-hour Purge. During the Purge, all crime is legal and emergency services are suspended. Gangs roam the streets with machetes and assault rifles while snipers crack open a beer and sit on rooftops, legally murdering anyone who crosses their path.
The characters in The Purge: Anarchy, an indirect sequel to last year’s The Purge, are not the best and brightest. If the violent Purge were just an hour away, I wouldn’t choose that as the time to stay late at my job or run to the supermarket. Upon getting home, I certainly wouldn’t postpone putting up my barricade until I’d taken a shower. No, in the reality of The Purge: Anarchy, I’d be at home a day ahead of time with windows barred, a dozen German shepherds at my side, and a pocket full of kibble to ensure their undying loyalty.
Yet if characters don’t get trapped outside during the Purge, there’s no movie. That would be a shame – once it gets over its awkward initial hurdles, Anarchy is a very solid action movie. It borrows from classic disaster films, where a tough, inaccessible hero would be paired with a hodge-podge of regular folks – in this case, our nameless hero (Frank Grillo) is using the night to exact his own vengeance, but his plans are derailed when he rescues a mother and daughter from certain death and finds a bickering couple stowed in the backseat of his armor-plated car.
In the 80s, this movie would have starred Kurt Russell and an embarrassment of studded leather jackets and neon mohawks. Anarchy plays it less postapocalyptic and with a strong social commentary, coming across as a combination of Escape From New York and The Hunger Games. That said, Anarchy has a surprisingly strong voice of its own and its episodic delivery does a lot to drive home its characters’ growth. The young Cali (Zoe Soul) is particularly stubborn about talking the hero out of his vengeance, while Liz (Kiele Sanchez) is shown to have a determined violent streak that the nameless hero recognizes, but her separated husband Shane (Sanchez’s real-life husband Zach Gilford) wouldn’t have guessed.
If you don’t recognize the performers’ names, it’s because they’re all character actors usually cast in supporting roles. Not having a dedicated lead does a lot to make the group feel real, as if it’s cobbled together from spare pieces.
What people will talk about most is the social satire Anarchy is dripping with. Since not enough Americans take advantage of the Purge, the government subsidizes it by sending in troops to purge low-income, minority communities. It’s a disturbing metaphor to make. It reminds me of New Orleans’ seizure of low-income, largely minority-owned private residences after Hurricane Katrina, evacuees returning only to find their property had been unfairly taken from them. I’d say Anarchy comes off as very liberal – at one point, our heroes are kidnapped and brought to a gala where the wealthy bid on the opportunity to hunt them – but then again, every character’s life in the movie is saved by a gun. While the movie’s overbearing government and ever-present surveillance speak to the fears of some conservatives, it’s also a government targeting minorities and named the “New Founding Fathers of America” which speaks to some liberals’ fear of racism being disguised in the trappings of nationalism.
Overall, I think Anarchy challenges both sides equally. It’ll definitely spark discussions. Its characters win us over, its action is effective and – while it’s not the horror movie it advertised itself as – it is a rousing action movie. And who can blame it? It’s been a dry year for horror, while you can’t spit this summer without hitting a great action movie. And that’s the problem. I recommend the film, but it’s hard to recommend it over other, more colorful action movies. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Edge of Tomorrow are still out there – their messages tighter, their action more compelling. See those first. Then give The Purge: Anarchy a chance.
It’s rated R for violence and language. Its action has a “splatter” moment or two, but otherwise it’s not any worse than you’d see in any number of primetime crime dramas. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go pet my German shepherd.