One of the biggest problems with 2013’s “The Purge” was the all-encompassing idea of a nation that allows one day to murder and kill without penalty, yet all we see are the events inside one single-family home.
The sequel, “The Purge: Anarchy,” has no marquee headlining star (Ethan Hawke and “Game of Thrones” star Lena Headey were cast in the original), but writer/director James DeMonaco takes us outside to the streets this time, giving a broader view of citizens who purge.
“The Purge” isn’t a horror film series, even though it’s marketed that way; it’s a psychological thriller for young adults of the “Saw” era. Unfortunately for us, DeMonaco has created something that Universal can milk sequels out of for years.
A year after we witnessed the events of the last American purge in 2022, it’s that holiday time again during which the government sanctions one 12 hour-period out of the year for citizens to purge: kill others without any retribution. Eva (Ejogo) and her daughter Cali (Soul) hide inside their downtown apartment, which is typically safe and secure from the purging outside.
Liz (Kiele Sanchez) and Shane (Gilford) had car trouble on the freeway and are running for their lives. The mysterious Sergeant (Grillo) chooses to help protect the poor and innocent he finds on his way to purge. When various groups pushing their own agendas begin targeting the innocent bystanders, Sergeant becomes their only refuge.
Since it isn’t a horror film, “The Purge” isn’t as focused on violence as you might expect. Guns are the weapon of choice during the annual purge, and we don’t have as much methodical killing for sport; it’s mostly about numbers. The masks are back, but less goofy and more horror type.
DeMonaco tries to orchestrate different agendas here, which allows for a surprise way out of impossible situations. With five main characters just like a pick-’em-off-horror film, anyone can bite the bullet at any time. The suspense feels more urgent and earned this time around, but we don’t have much development on the characters; we just feel their desperation enough to care about them.
Ironically, the most suspenseful scene takes place inside Eva’s co-worker’s house, a Mexican family who has had a little too much to drink on the night of the purge. DeMonaco cues the viewer in that something just isn’t right, but unlike the mayhem on the streets, the viewer is in the dark at what that might be. Grillo (“Warrior,” “Captain America: Winter Soldier”) makes a great antihero, and he would make an even better Gambit in the upcoming “X-Men” film, but that’s just my thoughts trailing off in the less interesting segments of “The Purge.”
This sequel seems to have corrected many of the issues in the previous by focusing on social injustices created by the purge; the poor can’t protect themselves while the rich purge in secure, high fashion.
Final Thought — Lowered expectations will make this sequel far more impressive than the original.