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When making a horror movie, the worse thing that you can be is dull. Well, perhaps the worst thing is actually to be annoying, but dull at least takes a close second. Despite some mild improvements, those two words are ultimately what come to mind when describing The Purge: Anarchy, writer/director James DeMonaco’s sequel to his surprise hit The Purge last year.
Focused, once again, on a future where violence and crimes are eliminated due to a specific holiday one day a year. A day where people are free to commit any crimes they want — including murder — this sequel decides to not make another home-invasion movie. Rather, it brings the action to what is happening outside and exploring the mayhem involved in the city on this fateful day.
Considering how this perspective was extremely lacking in the first movie, this seemed like the possible sequel that actually surpasses the original and truly makes justice of its high-minded concept. After all, this would be a great opportunity to see what actually happens on this kind of anarchy-driven day, and explore it through an engaging first-person type experience. Right?
Nope. Once again, DeMonaco fumbles the ball on trying to explore the possibility of his concept, while also creating interesting characters in connection to their dynamic set pieces. Like the first, this movie cannot find a way to make good use of its concept in a productive or creative way that its concept (probably) deserves. As, this time, in addition to poor characters and a lack of genuine scares, this movie can’t even figure out how to tell its political agenda right.
If people didn’t like the first one, it’s hard to imagine how they are going to like this one better. This movie, even more so than the first one, is not very scary. While the first movie was—actually—a horror movie, this sequel is being mis-advertised as one as well, when it is really an action-thriller, with awkward attempts at jump scares thrown throughout.
Worse yet, this sequel also tries to make up for the lack of humor needed in the first movie with occasional attempts at comedy throughout. Not that including comedy is bad at all—the opposite is true, rather—but each time they try this, it is worse than the last. DeMonaco seems to have no clue how to communicate comedic timing in his directing, and all these bad puns and stereotypical characters do is ruin the pacing and tone of the movie. Plus, the only times when the movie is actually funny is when it is not supposed to be at all.
The biggest fault, and — undoubtedly — the most annoying trait of this new Purge movie, however, is that it is not nearly as smart or revolutionary as it thinks it is. Much like the first one, the movie attempts to touch on political commentary. But any attempts to come across as profound or driven are sophomoric, lazy, stereotypical or just plain stupid.
In particular, its efforts to communicate on the 99% mentality only sporadically appear in the movie, failing to make any impact. Meanwhile, its efforts to comment on the 1% are so clichéd and cartoonish that it is a wonder that none of them are seen curling their mustaches or swimming in a pool of money like Scrooge McDuck. It’s clear that these moments are supposed to be funny, but they are so heavy-handed and overcooked that they only come across as tedious.
The best addition to this new movie is Frank Grillo, who proves after years of being the supporting character in action flicks that he can, indeed, carry his own. If only he got a better vehicle. It was a wise decision to cast him in the remake of The Raid, and hopefully he’ll be able to shine there. For his efforts at bringing humanity and weight to his character here are wasted on a writer/director that doesn’t seem to know how to communicate his thoughtful commentary.
Not helping Grillo either is the fact that pretty much every other character in the movie is just annoying. To the point that, in a film where people are being violently killed left and right, it's a wonder why someone just doesn’t finish them off already. The biggest offenders here are Shane and Liz (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez), a real-life married couple that constantly slow down their group with their whining and futile attempts at character development in a failed scheme to give this movie some weighty characters. In real life, this couple may be absolutely adorable together, but you wouldn’t know it here, one way or the other.
Like the first movie—and more so this time—the set pieces are among the best aspects of this sequel. As are the designs of the masks worn by the criminals throughout the movie—the center of the movie’s advertising, once again. But masks and cool looking places are not what make a movie work. And because DeMonaco has no idea how to stage or plan an action scene, each attempt at raising either a thrill or a scare are clumsily made and ineffective in moving the audience’s attention. Therein by making for a boring and in-engaging film, especially considering that we don’t care for (most) of the characters.
If ever there was a recent film series that needed a reboot or a new director, it’s this one. The Purge and The Purge: Anarchy have a fun concept, but it is squashed by poor execution and characters. There is the possibility of a hilarious dark political comedy here or a psychological thriller even, but neither are found in this movie.
The response to the original movie seemed to be mixed, with some loving it and some hating it. Considering how I thought the original was just along the lines of mediocre, I can’t imagine people are going to be persuaded by this new addition to the series.
Image courtesy of Roger Wong/INFphoto.com