Rancid "Purge" Sequel Revels In Own Awfulness

Great news! If you thought last year’s decidedly disappointing horror-thriller “The Purge” was too smart, too scary, or just too good, “The Purge: Anarchy” is the movie for you! If you like your violence senseless, your political allegories heavy-handed and unintelligible – yes, you can have both – and your scares non-existent, “The Purge: Anarchy” is the movie for you! In summary, if you like terrible things, “The Purge: Anarchy” is the movie for you! It’s an ugly, stupid, pointless debacle that doubles down on the disappointment of its predecessor, as if to ask moviegoers, “You thought that was bad? Watch this.”

Frank Grillo (“The Grey,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) tries. He really, really does. Every second his character is on screen, the pic nearly sputters to life, like a flooded car engine. But the world that writer-director James DeMonaco builds around him proves unworthy of his efforts, and Grillo ultimately succumbs to the pic’s unpleasantness. Picking up one year after the events of its predecessor – for no reason at all, since “Anarchy” has virtually nothing to do with that film – the United States’ annual Purge has arrived.

For the uninitiated, it’s 2023, and for one night every year, the government has made all crime legal. The streets inevitably run red with the blood of malcontents, vagrants, and folks unlucky enough to find themselves without shelter. But where “The Purge” was a small-scale home invasion flick, “Anarchy” attempts to rectify complaints that the original was too small in scale. DeMonaco has opened his storyline up to the streets of New York City – a sound idea in theory, miserable in execution as it robs the premise of all its horror elements.

What’s left is an exceedingly gory action-thriller that unites three groups of people in an attempt to survive the night. Grillo plays Leo Barnes, a brooding, morose, heavily armed man who hits the streets for… some reason or another. His aim isn’t revealed until late in the game, making for a pretty wild swing and miss at a mysterious lead character. In reality, he’s just boring. Carmen Ejogo (“Sparkle”) co-stars as Eva, a waitress and mother of a teenage girl, both of whom find themselves flushed out of their home for… some reason or another. Again, their storyline isn’t fleshed out until late in the film, further adding to the screenplay’s lethargy.

Rounding out the five leads is a married couple of thirty-somethings, Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), apparently on the verge of separation. We know this because they talk about it incessantly, even when their car is sabotaged and they find themselves being hunted by a group of masked men. Will their marital status come back as a plot point later in the film? It’s hard to say, since they never really stop talking about it. But DeMonaco does use the relationship as fuel for one of the most tasteless exploitations of personal loss ever put to film, a scene that many will long to scrub from their brains the instant it hits the screen.

Grillo, and to a lesser extent, Ejogo, acquit themselves well. Gilford and Sanchez? Not so much, giving performances that aren’t even up to snuff as pseudo-horror movie fodder. Yes, their characters are little more than cardboard cutouts, but so is Grillo’s, and his talents manage to cut through the noise. Michael K. Williams (HBO’s “The Wire”) might have the most regrettable role of the lot, though, a cameo as an anti-Purge freedom fighter. He yells all of his lines in the hopes that loudness will make his dialogue more impactful. It doesn’t.

There’s exactly one interesting scene in the movie, a sequence that suggests DeMonaco doesn’t grasp the power of the premise that he wields. Our leads find refuge in the house of one of Eva’s friends, a friend whose family quickly proves dysfunctional and potentially violent. The questions it raises about human nature in relation to the ones we love the most are far more interesting than any of the muddled socio-political commentary present in the rest of the pic. For a fleeting moment, “The Purge: Anarchy” stares down the terror of its premise, just as quickly abandoning it in favor of more pointless, ugly action. Moviegoers would do well to turn away from the entire film just as quickly.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Bad)

Release Date: July 18, 2014
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: James DeMonaco
Screenwriter: James DeMonaco
Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Michael K. Williams
MPAA Rating: R (for strong disturbing violence, and for language)