Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

During the night of the yearly purge, when a dystopian USA opens the floodgates to legal murders and mutilation, waitress Eva (Carmen Ejogo), her daughter Cali (Zoë Soul), and the troubled couple Liz (Kiele Sanchez) and Shane (Zach Gilford), all out on the street for no fault of their own, not even stupidity, stumble into the reluctant protection of a nameless stranger (Frank Grillo). The man is armed to the teeth and clearly out to commit an act of personal vengeance yet still can’t help himself and leads these people bound for a violent and most probably highly unpleasant death through the dangerous parts of the city to potential safety; or as much as there is safety for the poor on this particular night.

The problems they encounter are not just poor people doing the rich’s work slaughtering their own, but also a suspiciously well organized group of people who might just be part of a government conspiracy, as well as the idle rich who just love some idle, riskless killing for sport. On the plus side, there’s a resistance group lead by a ranting Michael Kenneth Williams. Omar would be proud, probably.

I was so non-plussed by writer/director James DeMonaco’s original The Purge I didn’t even feel the need to write anything about it. And really, what is there to write about a film that uses an improbable but metaphorically potent dystopian near future concept ideally fit for discussing class war while also featuring acts of entertaining violence to make another home invasion movie about the sanctity of rich peoples’ family life threatened by another bunch of masked young people?

I have some difficulty wrapping my head around the fact the very same James DeMonaco made this much more interesting, as well as just better, near future SF action film taking place in the same world and talking about all the things the first Purge completely ignored. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as happy about it as can be, for what is more pleasant to watch than a filmmaker learning from his mistakes and improving on them? So, unlike the first one, we now have a film that talks a lot about class divisions in various ways, some of them more subtle – best represented by the way characters in the film rather subtly react to the concept of the Purge in ways quite connected to their ability to buy ways to protect themselves during it – some of them in a kind of sledgehammer agitprop way Roger Corman would have very much approved of in the 70s. For the latter, just look at the way the film turns the really rich into grotesques that look like a different species altogether, held together by botox and some of the most frightening partings hair science has ever encountered. There’s room for the middle ground of a degree of complexity too, for Anarchy also finds time to argue the worst trick the rich (faceless, evil mass that they are in this argument until one of them does something actually human right at the end of the movie) ever played on the poor was making them fight against each other for scraps. It’s not the deepest political analysis, but in the sequel of a film that just ignored the obvious political implications of its set-up completely it’s an extreme improvement.

I’d also argue this Purge provides a much clearer idea of the feelings that come with the concept of class when you actually belong to the so-called lower classes, have to scrabble for the things the rich deign to give you, and buckle and say thank you for stuff that should be everyone’s birthright while your so-called superiors turn themselves into grotesques that can’t even move their faces anymore for the money that could feed and make comfortable everyone you know for years, than a more subtly argued approach could. And let me tell you, those feelings just might have more to do with those of ranting Michael Kenneth Williams than with more pleasant and peaceful ones.

At the same time, Anarchy isn’t so angry it thinks that personal vengeance, be it as well founded as it may, is a thing that’ll keep a human being whole in the long run, so it treats personal vengeance as a thing to get over, just another trap that’ll only distract someone from the larger political picture as well as from something just as important – one’s own humanity.

All this – and it’s really a lot – DeMonaco packages in a delightful series of suspense and action scenes directed with tension, clarity, and style, drenched in nightly neon colours, clearly reminding of the post-apocalyptic and kind-of-post-apocalyptic films of John Carpenter and Walter Hill. Anarchy particularly reminded me of the best films of the latter director, with The Warriors as a film I’d really be surprised DeMonaco hadn’t seen quite often - a compliment if ever I made one.

So, to summarize, The Purge: Anarchy has all the virtues of a classic low budget movie: it’s clever, political, subversive, grotesque and just a whole lot of fun to watch if you enjoy bloody violence, scripts that mix the outrageous with the clever with human bits, and an acting ensemble that knows how to let short-hand characters breathe.


Pauline said...

Well, I was vacillating on this one - because the first one flat out sucked - but now I'm not only sold, I'm curious. And off I go...

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

I was really surprised how much I enjoyed it. Going in, I expected to be as annoyed by it as I was by the first one.
Pleasant surprises do happen.