Monday, July 28, 2014

Purge: Anarchy, The (2014)

Director: James DeMonaco
Notable Cast: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoe Soul

Growing up with the gritty movies of the 70s and 80s, my tastes have always been geared towards the extremity of those films over the spectacle and clean style that proceeded. So when I was told that The Purge: Anarchy was heavily inspired by John Carpenter, I knew I had to see it. I was not a fan of the first Purge for many reasons (some of which I will get to in this review), but just having my friends tell me that this one was Carpenter inspired had me sold. To say ‘inspired’ might be an understatement though. The Purge: Anarchy is the John Carpenter film we’ve been waiting for at Blood Brothers since Vampires. It’s not a perfect film and hits on a lot of cliché beats in telling its story, but dammit I had a blast watching this grindhouse inspired modern film.

It’s the night of The Purge, an annual new American tradition where all crimes are made legal for 12 hours, and the masses are either prepping to survive or kill. For a mother and daughter duo (Ejogo and Soul) it’s a night to simply survive. For a troubled husband and wife (Gilford and Sanchez), some unfortunate car maintenance brings about disastrous results. For a man on the hunt for revenge (Grillo), it might just mean his redemption.

"It's gonna be one hell of a night."
To be perfectly honest, for those who dwell in some of the low budget films of the 70s and 80s, Anarchy is not going to feel all that new. I mentioned John Carpenter in the intro and, in my honest opinion, Anarchy is essentially a slightly off set bastard child of the original Assault on Precinct 13 and Escape from New York. Director James DeMonaco obviously loves Mr. Carpenter (hell, he even penned the screenplay for the remake of Assault on Precinct 13) and it shows in this film. From the anti-hero antics and snarky remakes of Grillo, the dark gritty tones, and balance between thriller and action with a streak of horror, Anarchy is about as close as you get to a Carpenter film. If only it had the synth heavy soundtrack, I might have been fooled.

While the resulting tones and style aren’t new, the ability to see a film like this in wide release (and putting up successful numbers) is rather fresh and fun. DeMonaco knows how to blend a bit of grindhouse into a more mainstream styled film and it worked for me. While many of the characters can seem a bit cliché for their own good (the husband and wife duo was a bit forced although a turn for them in the final act was solid gold), the mother/daughter combo seemed effective and Grillo turns in a great 80s style anti hero performance. I’m pretty sure he just unofficially made an audition for another reboot of The Punisher during this film with his tough guy ass kicking (and stern jaw) and if he doesn’t get that role when it comes to fruition then I’m going to be pissed.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the lacking horror elements of this sequel. Let’s remember now, it’s a sequel to one of the big horror surprises of 2013. Not that the original Purge was all that good. It severely lacked horror elements itself and the by-the-numbers approach to a home invasion flick just felt like The Strangers if it was a neutered film. Yet, Anarchy is the kind of film that truly runs with the silly grindhouse concept of The Purge. Instead of run-of-the-mill jump scares and tension, this sequel adds a bit of titular chaos to the mix. Sure there is tension and atmosphere, some of the God’s eye view shots of our heroes on the city streets were impressive, but the random bursts of violence and debauchery make use of the concept much better: a neighbor threatens sexual assault at gunpoint, a fire truck zips by on fire, a man is pinned to the walls of a bank for losing trust funds. This film truly goes to show the evil streak of humanity on screen and not just for exploitative reasons. A subplot involving a militant rebel group against The Purge attempts to throw some moral light to humanity. Although this element is more or less left open for further installments (here’s hoping for some They Live anti-mainstream commentary), it’s a great balance that really worked for this reviewer.

All in the details...
I was pleasantly surprised with the resulting film that I saw in The Purge: Anarchy. It hits some basic thriller beats and character plot arcs, but the execution of the gritty style and 80s style action thriller foundation is superb. This is not a film for everyone (and even those of a more skeptical mindset might pick at some of the obvious plot progressions towards the latter half of the film), but for this reviewer it was a remarkable throw back film that hit the spot. It comes highly recommended.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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