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The Purge: Anarchy

July 18, 2014
The Purge: Anarchy

I may be the one reviewer who actually really liked The Purge. The social points that seemed clear to me — an examination of racial and class privilege under the magnifying lens of policies put in place by a horrific Tea-Party analogue using religion and nationalism as a popular front for the effort to entrench the interests of the political and financial elites at the expense of everyone else — seemed to fly right by everyone else. Oh well.

But that didn’t mean that I was any more excited for The Purge: Anarchy than the rest. The big horror-heads scorned The Purge for not being more like You’re Next, and rightfully expect the sequel to be more of the same. For my part, I saw it going one of two ways: either writer/director James DeMonaco tries to give the slasher-fest most people seem to have wanted or he goes for another bite at his social-commentary apple. In the first case, that’s just the kind of horror movie I find boring and pointless; in the second, I see no reason to believe it will come across any more clearly than the first attempt did.

And indeed, Anarchy doubles down on the metaphor. The script gets even more explicit, with an anti-New-Founding-Fathers activist (Michael K. Williams) posting videos online calling for resistance. A laundry list of progressive social issues get folded in, and I love that, but nobody seemed to get it last time and I don’t know if anyone will this time.

We move from a tony suburb to the gritty downtown areas where the Purge is naturally most active. Gangs prowl the streets, hunting for prey. A young couple (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) try to get home before the sundown commencement, only to find their car sabotaged, stranding them. A mother and daughter (Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul) try to hide out in their apartment, but a paramilitary-style unit storms the building and tries to kidnap them. They’re saved by an armed man (Frank Grillo) out on his own mission, just as the first couple tries to hide out in his car. The five band together and move across the city, trying to find safe haven to last the night.

Moving into such a large arena allows for many more moving pieces, and a lot more carnage than last time, but I doubt it will satisfy those looking for a slasher/splatter film. It also leads to a lot of running-with-camera, which can get nauseating at times. And it means we lose the focus on one man coming into awareness of his own privilege, and with it the chance for our own recognition as we identify with him. I get it: it’s more fun to have an underdog to root for than to identify with a character only to realize he may be part of the problem.

But that approach didn’t work last time anyway. In its place we get more explicit statements that the Tea Party — sorry, the “New Founding Fathers” — are really about entrenching the interests of the rich at the expense of the poor. And we get references to a bunch of related issues as well.

The Purge is obviously gun culture, fetishizing weapons; a woman describes her favorite gun with near-masturbatory glee. The Purge is rape culture too; a man holds two women at gunpoint, swearing tonight he’ll take the sex that he deserves as an American male. The Purge is income inequality; the lives of the wealthy are so abstracted from those of the poor that they literally buy and sell people to hunt for sport. The Purge is even a failed health care system; a sick old man decides he’s worth more as a sacrifice to the rich than as a burden to his family. The Purge turns America into a literal war-zone, but too many of our own people — female, black, hispanic, or simply not rich enough — walk through one every day in real life.

I admire DeMonaco for putting all these issues out there in his films, but I despair that it will come across to anyone. The people like me who already think that gun culture and rape culture and all the others are huge problems don’t need to get the message. Those who DeMonaco reflects in a funhouse mirror not only won’t recognize themselves, they don’t even believe that these problems exist. In a way, that scares me far more than the movie ever could.

Worth It: yes
Bechdel Test: pass

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