"The Purge: Election Year" (C) Universal Studios

Prep for “The Purge: Election Year” with a look at “Anarchy”


With “The Purge: Election Year” out this weekend, I felt it appropriate to take a look back at my review for the first “Purge” sequel, “The Purge: Anarchy.” It feels particularly appropriate in an age of Donald Drumpf, the rise of income inequality and Brexit.

Though I hear Jon Bernthal did well as the Punisher in the Netflix “Daredevil” series, I still wish Frank Grillo wore the skull. He was great as Crossbones, but truly a waste of his grit.

Review – “The Purge: Anarchy” from 2015

Last year’s “The Purge” by writer/ director James DeMonaco brought us a unique premise. The original film focused on a sliver of that premise’s potential.

With this year’s sequel, “The Purge: Anarchy,” DeMonaco crafts a story worthy of the series’ intriguing premise.

Though a limited budget (only $9 million) prevents all out anarchy in the streets, DeMonaco doesn’t fail to disappoint with what he has, presenting both the anarchic feel of the Purge and the socio-political elements that are inextricably linked.

And yes, it’s still a horror movie.

What is “The Purge?”

Frank Grillo in "The Purge: Anarchy" (C) Universal Studios

Frank Grillo in “The Purge: Anarchy” (C) Universal Studios

In the near future, a group ominously called the “Founding Fathers” have assumed governmental control of America. They instituted a twelve hour annual event known as the Purge. During this time, all laws are suspended, including murder.

Citizens are allowed to purge their feelings any way they see fit.

There are two notable rules. First, all emergency services are suspended for the duration of the Purge. No hospitals, no police, no firemen. Citizens are on their own.

Second, American society has been broken down into classes. Those in the highest class, the rich one percenters, are exempt from being targets of the Purge.

Borrowing from “The Warriors” – can you dig it?

The first “Purge” movie pit a family of one percenters (at least, twenty-five percenters) against anarchic rogues in a home invasion.

“The Purge: Anarchy” brings us into the streets of Los Angeles for a “The Warriors”-style journey across town and through the socio-political ramifications of the Purge’s ideology.

Frank Grillo plays Sergeant. It’s a shame he’s already playing Crossbones in “The Winter Soldier”; he’d make a great addition as the Punisher in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He has all of Frank Castle’s self-loathing and violent determination as he quests to use the Purge to extract revenge.

Luckily for the other protagonists, Sergeant retains a noble streak.

While on his mission of vengeance, he sees a mother and daughter (Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul) being jacked up by a heavily-armed, masked hit squad. Despite his instinct to just move on, Sergeant steps in to help.

During that same incident, a couple on the verge of separation (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) fleeing masked Purgers links up with Sergeant and the women.

Sergeant is now saddled with helping all four people get to the safety of an apartment across town while the Purge rages about them.

Still bringing the horror

Just like in its predecessor, no one is ever truly safe, not even at home. The masked hit squad drags the woman and her daughter out of their fortified home, but only after one of their neighbors breaks in with the intent to rape them.

The couple get into danger when a group of masked Purgers sever their gas line while at a shopping center hours before the Purge begins. The Purgers then ominously follow the couple, patiently waiting for the opportunity to strike.

We’re also introduced to concepts that would make the creators of the New French Extremity movement proud. One portrays one percenters in a formal room that’s covered in plastic sheeting. They bring in a lower class citizen and proceed to butcher him with blades.

A look into America’s possible future

(C) Universal Studios

(C) Universal Studios

The best horror stories are allegories for some problem plaguing the audience’s collective unconscious. “The Exorcist” deals with Man’s faith in a higher power. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” contemplates the idea of vigilante vengeance and the unintended results. “Alien” confronts the fear of natural child birth.

“The Purge” series explores the possible future of a nation with an apathetic acceptance of income inequality and violence on its streets.

Class warfare is firmly established in the Purge’s demand that the rich be exempt from the list of potential victims. While they lock themselves away in heavily fortified ivory towers, the middle and lower classes are left to fend for themselves like animals.

The daughter, Cali, follows an internet renegade named Carmelo (“The Wire’s” Michael K. Williams) who rails against the very idea of the Purge. He sees it for what it is: an attempt by the rich to thin the herd of those beneath them while indulging in their darkest, sadistic fantasies.

It’s a conspiracy theorists’ worst fears realized.

Falling into the “Elysium” traps

“The Purge: Anarchy” does slip into the trap of depicting all the bad people as white. I’ve already made the argument of why this isn’t a problem when speaking of “Elysium” staring Matt Damon. The nutshell argument is that, when looking at the real one percenters, they are – surprise – mostly white.

This movie also falls into the “Elysium” trap of the hero being the literal white knight saving all the minority figures. Again, as in “Elysium,” “The Purge” waves the “nothing to see here!” flag by focusing on class instead of race.

Everyone comes together at the end, holding it together to survive the anarchy of the Purge.

“The Purge 3?”

If this one is a success, hopefully Universal will give the filmmakers a more substantial budget. I’d like to see “Avengers”-style anarchy in the streets. In order to do that, you need more than roughly Scarlet Johansson’s salary for “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

Universal is probably more open to the ease of return on a lower budget film; thankfully, DeMonaco is good at making less look like more.

Thanks to an intriguing premise, “The Purge” series is open for any number of future films. As long as they continue the trend of supplying the scares, thought-provoking ideology and characters one can truly empathize with, I look forward to future installments.

UPDATE – “The Purge: Election Year”

Watch the trailer for “Election Year” below.

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