Rated R for strong, disturbing violence and language
Written and directed by James DeMonaco
Starring Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford and more
Grade: Zero stars
Disgusting people is not the same as frightening them.
Of the many tortures “The Purge: Anarchy” forces audience members to suffer through, perhaps the worst of all is the fact that none of it is actually scary. The movie offers up a veritable buffet of murder, assault and general sociopathy, all with so little context or reason that it’s no more terrifying than a pile of vomit on the street. The only times I jumped at all were because of sudden, loud noises, but I’ve jumped higher when someone slammed a door hard.
For those who have managed to escape the series thus far, “The Purge” movies exist in a world where the government has decided the best way to lower crime rates is to give everyone 12 hours a year to do any and every crime they want. Supposedly, this has also lowered unemployment and the number of people below the poverty line, which is ridiculous unless 1) everyone is being employed by the weapons industry or 2) all the previously unemployed and/or poor people are being killed in the Purge, improving the overall numbers.
There is a vague plot thread in “Anarchy” suggesting that the Purge is a way for the rich to keep the poor subjugated, and in a different movie the idea might have led to bleakly incisive social commentary a la “Lord of the Flies.” Here, however, the idea is nothing more than window dressing, something to fill in the moments before they can justify another crime of some kind. When the filmmakers are so obviously in love with the horrible excess they’re supposedly critiquing, they lose all points for social commentary.
In fact, the desire to expand the concept out into the wider world is what dismantles the shred of logic evident in the first movie. There are sociopaths out in the world, people who want to hurt others simply for the sake of pain, and I could believe that a group of them could gather and try to kill the rich family in “The Purge.” If nothing else, money is always a common motivation to crime.
But in “Anarchy,” the streets are filled with people who seem to have come outside solely for the joy of terrorizing and murdering complete strangers. Supposedly, they’re “cleansing the beast,” a telling statement about this universe’s theory of evil. There’s darkness in all of us, the movie seems to say, but it’s not our fault and not really a part of us. It’s an obedient, separate entity that will disappear for the rest of the year if we give it what it wants for a little while.
That is the stupidest, most naïve view of evil I have ever heard. Study after study has shown that violent impulses only increase if you indulge them. Serial killers and mass murderers couldn’t care less about the law, and they get more and more addicted to death as they pile up bodies. There’s no way they’d bother waiting for the Purge to kill, which steals all the horror out of the entire concept.
On the other hand, non-sociopaths rarely kill without directly benefiting from the death. There might be darkness inside us, but it usually has a specific target. If “Anarchy” had been built around the very real dangers of a creepy neighbor or the spouse looking for insurance money during the Purge, the movie might have actually been frightening.
Horror movies work because we can empathize with the protagonist on some level. We can imagine being in their shoes, and feel an echo of the terror they experience as they fight for their lives.
In “The Purge: Anarchy,” however, every second makes it painfully obvious that none of this is real. None of it matters. In the end, the only thing I felt was bored disgust.