The first The Purge was an interesting idea that did not delve all that deep into its core idea. It was a claustrophobic small-scale film, taking place almost entirely in a house. It had some solid performances from Lena Heady and Ethan Hawke among others. But it really did not explore the Purge concept much at all.
The Purge: Anarchy, however, rectifies this. It explores the larger concepts. Now mind you, the Purge has an interesting concept that false apart really quickly. To combat crime and poverty, America instituted the Purge. One evening a year where for twelve hours all things are lawful. Right up through rape and murder. The idea that organized crime and other criminals would just hold off until that one night seems pretty unlikely. I presume insurance companies do not payout on life insurance for people who are killed on the night of the Purge. Considering how many murders are crimes from the heat of the moment, rather than calculated and the compulsive obsessive nature of certain sexual crimes, the idea that everyone would just keep themselves in check…
But anyways, in the film there are interesting aspects the the first film only hinted at. We hear more from the President, and see the Purge being presented in patriotic and religious language. The president speaks of cleansing our souls, how good it is for America. We see how people use the night to blow off steam, get revenge and, of course make money. There is an explicit explanation that the government encourages as much killing as possible (and is actually frustrated by the fact that not enough people get killed in the annual Purge). We see people being purchased at auction by the rich so they can safely kill people without being in danger themselves. And there is a revolutionary group opposing the Purge and the Government. I suspect it is not accident that this group is mainly black and Latino.
But while this makes for a creative environment, storytelling-wise, it is meaningless if you have no characters to root for. In the film we have a mother and daughter (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul) who narrowly avoid getting raped (by the biggest MRA/Nice Guy you can imagine-he wants to rape the mother because she did not show him proper respect…”You should be nice to people!”) only to be taken hostage. We also meet a couple whose car has broken down (Kiele Sanchez and Zach Guilford). In walks Frank Grillo (Captain America:the Winter Soldier). He walked into the street ready to kill the man who killed his son, instead ending up helping our scared foursome.
The characters are all likeable, Grillo plays the role as a grief stricken father on a mission, and the resolution to his story? I think it plays out very well. The core plot might make you presume it is a glorification of mayhem, but the film ultimately favors the notion that the purge is a great evil, that heroes saving lives are a threat to the purge and mercy is a virtue.
I ended up liking this film far more than I expected to. I was worried when the leads were in danger, and I hoped for them to survive. And when I thought we were ending on a down note, the film took a hopeful turn.
Heck, I even like the idea of a third film… And it should be called The Purge: Revolution.