Like a superweird porn that a buddy insists you just have to see, 2013’s The Purge was the sort of movie that begged for our curiosity. Starring a slumming Ethan Hawke and Game Of Thrones’ Lena Headey, The Purge imagined a near-future America where a regime called the New Founding Fathers ensured the nation’s utopian destiny by authorizing a night where all crime – “including murder!” the ads brayed – was legal for 12 hours. I like to imagine that script was greenlit during a particularly desperate period in Hollywood where all premises were legal for 12 hours.
The idea, per Intro To Freud, is that America’s pent-up energy could be exorcised via a full-on criminal blowout, leading to a national decrease in crime and, somehow, unemployment.
In their randomness, law and dogma end up certifying themselves, sort of like that Star Trek: The Next Generation episode with the planet that was totally perfect save for the fact that you could be sentenced to death for running on the grass.
Where the original Purge dealt exclusively with Hawke’s upper-class family fending off wave after wave of home invaders, the inevitable sequel – the original wound up grossing nearly $90-million (U.S.) on its cheapo $3-million budget – shows everything omitted by the original. Specifically: all that anarchy.
Anarchy gathers a cast of conscientious purge objectors forced into the war zone of a major city’s downtown core.
It seems like New York, but is never explicitly named as such. (And anyway, in The Purge’s America New York has probably been renamed Neo Jeffersonburg or something.)
The hapless survivors are rescued by an avenging vigilante (Frank Grillo), exploiting the all-crime-is-legal catchall to exact justice on the drunk driver who killed his son and got off on a technicality.
The Wire’s Michael K. Williams pops in as a revolutionary anti-Purge dissenter, jamming TV signals to issue pleas for a national uprising, like an activist Max Headroom.Like the dumbest movies about mob rule and urban violence, the film’s blood-lusting riff-raff are little more than whooping goofs – like they’re on loan from RoboCop 2, the Death Wish sequels or Joel Schumacher’s run at the Batman movies. Forget the cathartic release and claims of soul-cleansing. Criminality is its own reward, whether you’re a cackling hoodlum blasting a flamethrower from the back of an ATV or a giblet-necked plutocrat sport-hunting poor people in a private game reserve.
Soulless and idiotic and abysmally scripted as it is, Anarchy, like its predecessor, feels mournfully relevant. It’s part of a new wave in dummy American genre cinema. Call it “Patriotspolitation”: films that mine relevant anxieties about post-9/11 America (class warfare, economic collapse, the vanishing of exceptionalism) only to churn out cheap thrills, jump scares and half-cocked commentary about gun ownership. Par for the course, Anarchy makes some broad anti-firearm comments, while devoting half the film’s action to good guys acquiring guns, and the other half to them firing said guns. It’s like a primitive Washington hardcore punk song that hungers desperately to comment on the state of the nation but can only manage shout the key terms: GUNS! CARS! CLASS! POLITICS! FLAG!
So, weirdly, damnably, and probably totally incidentally, The Purge: Anarchy’s laughable badness ends up inadvertently revealing something about America-in-crisis. Only a nation that’s legitimately lost in the weeds could churn out a rote actioner this ideologically incoherent and straight-up stupid. Next: a literal War On Christmas movie.