TMN Movie Review: "The Purge: Anarchy"

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Rating: R
Length: 103 minutes
Release Date: July 18, 2014
Directed by: James DeMonaco
Genre: Action / Horror / Thriller

Writer and director James Demonaco follows up the 2013 surprise hit "The Purge" with a continuation of his inventive dystopian near future in "The Purge: Anarchy." The "Purge" films hinge on an annual night of frenzied terror as all laws are suspended. Fearful citizens struggle to survive as the animalistic urges of mankind rule the night. This film ditches the pristine confines of the first movie's gated community, and instead, it examines the 12-hour period of lawlessness from the brutal streets of a modern metropolis.

Perhaps not a direct sequel, Ethan Hawke and most of the cast from the first film are replaced with a diverse group of individuals thrown together on the most unfortunate of nights. Frank Grillo, fresh from his sharp performance in "Captain America: Winter Soldier," plays a vengeful father trying to track down his son's murderers. He arms himself and sets out in an armored vehicle ideally designed for surviving a city free from restraint. "The Purge" offers the perfect avenue for his vigilante pursuit. While others use the night to release their destructive criminal fervor, his character uses the unrestrained violent period as an opportunity to bring justice to the world.

Grillo strung together a series of small but impressive performances. This violent milieu seems to suit the rugged actor. A viewer could almost imagine his character from this film as being a tortured extension of the sympathetic but determined sergeant he played in "End of Watch." After 21 years in the industry, Grillo finally gets his chance to play a powerful character in a leading role.

Not all of the film's protagonists are as well-equipped or trained as Grilo's. Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez play an approachable young couple attempting to flee the city before mayhem sets in. Their escape falters as their car breaks down, stranding them. This premise taps into the social anxiety of every traveler fearful of being trapped in unfamiliar and decidedly dangerous surroundings. The couple is quickly pursued by a masked gang carrying out their psychotic fantasies.

Both actors are TV veterans from successful series. Gilford starred in "Friday Night Lights," and Sanchez starred in "Lost." Moviegoers will likely find themselves identifying with the pair, as they are normal people ambushed by horrific circumstances. Their fear becomes palpable as faceless thugs chase them through city streets torn by convulsing carnage.

The quintet of unlikely allies is rounded out by Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul as a mother and daughter, Eva and Cali, desperately trying to fortify their rundown apartment against the coming onslaught. This highlights one of the major departures from the first film. The original movie focused on a wealthy family safely ensconced in a suburban home but forced into a confrontation outside their expectations. Eva and Cali instead represent the sizable segment of the population that scratches out an existence at the edge of society. In the world of the Purge, the poor pay the price for the violent release.

These five characters battle through a recognizable Los Angeles. The already formidable city is transformed into a nightmarish playground for the maladjusted, malevolent and murderous. Almost any imaginable scene of cruel inhumanity is acted out there. Audiences will cringe and jump as the cascading threats and foes expand exponentially. Fans of the initial movie should keep a close eye out for the return of Edwin Hodge as the mysterious stranger. Those intrigued by his unresolved storyline should be relieved to see its conclusion.

Guided by DeMonaco's steady hand and muscular script, cinematographer Jacques Jouffret deftly captures the frenetic violence. The film could have easily suffered from jarring jump cuts, leaving the audience lurching in their seats. Jouffret instead uses his experience working on other fiery films, such as "Lone Survivor," to deliver an imminently watchable movie, despite its difficult subject matter.

Before "The Purge," James DeMonaco was probably best known as a capable scribe, penning the scripts for diverse works, such as the playful children's film "Jack" and the tense crime drama "The Negotiator." He seems to have hit on a successful formula with the Purge series. The first installment garnered a nearly $90 million dollar return on its estimated $3 million dollar budget. It's no wonder the production team, including the prolific Michael Bay, greenlit a sequel so quickly. DeMonaco may have crafted the kind of franchise that has success stretching over the better part of a decade. Horror, as a genre, is voracious in its pursuit of new terrors. "The Purge: Anarchy" satiates those appetites but still leaves the crowd ready for another course.