The militarization of North American law enforcement finally became a mainstream political issue in the summer of 2014. Decades of cruel, preventable murders of countless black men, women, boys & girls at the hands of white, paranoid, trigger happy, male police officers became too numerous and despicable to ignore any longer. What was once discussed by few is now being debated by all in a very public, global forum.
By sheer coincidence, in the weeks before Michael Brown’s murder in Ferguson, Missouri lit the forgotten fuse that outraged millions into action, The Purge: Anarchy began its run in theatres. Set in 2023, like its predecessor The Purge, it imagines America in the not-too-distant future as an authoritarian state run by religious conservatives who allow the public 12 consecutive hours one night a year to commit as many violent felonies as they choose with no legal consequences whatsoever. However, if you use a certain type of explosive, you’ll be prosecuted. Yes, kill as many as you like with all sorts of automatic weaponry but TNT is a step too far, eh? Calm down with the boom-boom, you sick bastards.
The demented thinking goes that if one saves up all of one’s pent-up aggressions for this annual purge, you’ll act more like a reasonable, law abiding citizen for the rest of the year. (Really? Poppycock, I say.) The more believable explanation is that killing off the poor or having the rich kill them off for you one day a year saves the government a lot of money. (Fiscal conservatism, people.) Unfortunately, since the first Purge movie, unemployment has somehow creeped up from 1% to 5%, so it’s not really working.
At any event, how all of this escapes the attention of human rights groups, the International Criminal Court & the UN, I’ll never understand. Apparently, in a Purge movie American Exceptionalism is almost always uncontested, especially in the media. (Reporters and anchors cover it like its just another news story.) And government officials are never considered worthy targets. (Wall Street bankers, on the other hand…)
However, the purge doesn’t escape the attention of a black militant group who have their own website led by a Malcolm X-type firebrand who rails against the coldness of the New Founding Fathers, the right-wing government who initiated this barbaric practice in 2018, in posted online videos. Not a fan of the non-violent philosophy, he announces that his group will be fighting all this state sanctioned violence with violence of their own. (Yeah, that’s not hypocritical in the slightest.) How puzzling that he never overtly mentions how much this affects the black community specifically.
While the original Purge focused on one family’s experience under siege in their own house, The Purge: Anarchy spends far more time outside in the streets and alleys following several unrelated characters as they try to avoid getting caught up in all the simulated sadism put on sickening display. If Saw and Hostel were what critics called Torture Porn, then this is Assassination Porn, a disturbing splatterfest meant to titillate and arouse your inner murderer. Those who choose to purge get a different kind of release. No thanks.
We meet a struggling local waitress (Carmen Ejogo) with an outspoken teen daughter (Zoe Saul) and a father dying from a mysterious disease (a rather healthy looking John Beasley); a married couple (Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez) on the verge of separation; and a divorced military veteran (Frank Grillo) grieving over the death of his young son. None of them are interesting enough to really care about.
Grillo is the only one who wants to purge (he wants to kill the drunk driver who made him childless a year ago) while the rest are hoping to find safe refuge from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. this March 21st. Unfortunately, not long after the violence begins, a sexist harasser (Noel G) who Ejogo isn’t interested in breaks into her apartment threatening to do terrible things to her and her daughter because she’s always been resisting his “charms”. (Beasley sneaked out hours before the first siren to sacrifice himself for his family. Capitalism works!) What’s so distressing about this scene is how much he sounds like Elliot Rodger, the screwed up college student who wanted to kill all the women who wouldn’t have sex with him and ended up going on a short, tragic, suicidal rampage because of it.
Thankfully, the two are seemingly spared when this overly chatty, misogynistic prick gets murdered by masked gunmen. (The Fallacy Of The Talking Killer lives on.) But then, those same gunmen kidnap the two women for reasons we are temporarily spared from learning. Meanwhile, Grillo coincidentally drives up outside their apartment building witnessing their ordeal. At the same time, Gilford & Sanchez, who have to abandon their car a few hours earlier because a gangbanger decided to play amateur mechanic, are desperate for sanctuary of their own. When Grillo eventually intervenes, the couple slip into the back seat of his car undetected.
After Ejogo & Saul’s rescue is complete, and once Gilford & Sanchez convince a startled Grillo they’re no threat to him (how can they be when he’s the one with all the guns?), all five drive away together in a vehicle that inevitably gets shot up all to hell by the one guy Grillo doesn’t kill, a ballcap-wearing psycho in sunglasses firing off a stationary big ass machine gun in the back of an open truck. If Grillo had done his job and finished him off properly, the gang would’ve had a better mode of transportation. But after Big Daddy (yes, that’s his name) obliterates his car, they’re on foot. Idiots.
Hoping to immediately find a replacement vehicle for his own purge, Grillo is foolishly convinced by Ejogo to journey over to her co-worker’s apartment while also protecting everybody from the roving gangs of sociopaths eager to take advantage of this penalty-free period. Sucker.
The fact that Ejogo isn’t completely honest with Grillo becomes a major problem once they arrive. Violence suddenly erupts because of an exposed affair. Barely escaping with their lives intact (Gilford has already been shot during an earlier subway shootout with one gang), the crisis worsens for the fivesome when Big Daddy and company arrive planning to surround Ejogo’s co-worker’s building. With just seconds to spare before some goons make their way to the back entrance, our five heroes seem to be in the clear only to be suddenly kidnapped by one of the roving gangs who are curiously more capitalist than sadist.
They’re soon sold as bounties to some rich fucks having a purge party. Well-to-do volunteers take to a makeshift, darkened inner playground to hunt our heroes down with high-tech weaponry while wearing night vision goggles. Good thing Grillo is a veteran.
What is the point of a movie like this? Is it meant to serve as a cinematic warning of where America is heading if it doesn’t wake up and scale back its gun culture? Is it meant to alarm us about the creeping fascism in American politics, the growing coldness in American life, the endless tentacles of the mass surveillance state? Or is it meant to simply normalize despicable violence as a final solution to the point of numbness, a CIA specialty? I think I just stumbled upon the answer.
Recycling its flimsy premise from its slightly better predecessor, The Purge: Anarchy is all bloodlust, all mayhem, all empty provocation; a dark premise deadly bored with the idea of searching for deeper enlightenment. And it’s hypocritical, too. Not all acts of purging are treated equally. Gilford makes an admittedly bad joke about a murdered Wall Street worker saying he deserved it. Although there are numerous attempts to talk him out of it, Grillo remains determined to get his revenge. That’s “acceptable” violence, you see.
Without providing much of a backstory, it’s really hard to buy the idea that, beyond that one solitary black rebel group online, no one else would be publicly protesting the purge or that it would even take place as scheduled (for 6 straight years!) without some kind of serious pushback from lawmakers, journalists, human rights advocates and the citizenry. Because the film spends zero time talking about the history of the New Founding Fathers, it’s a mystery how they cling to power now that crime rates have dropped. With the exception of a brief radio debate, there’s no serious resistance to their cruel stupidity whatsoever.
It’s difficult watching The Purge: Anarchy without thinking about the current state of American politics. All around us is undeniable evidence of a growing police state where real dissent is punished with overlong prison sentences, the innocent are tortured, being brown or black is immediate justification for suspicion & instantaneous execution and the powerful human monsters who commit all of these atrocities remain free, respected and prosperous. Anarchy doesn’t mention the War On Terror or the War On Drugs. In fact, it’s not quite clear what sorts of crimes were out of control before the New Founding Fathers took power. Maybe if it used these endless, pointless, inhumane wars as a starting point or as context for the annual purge, some important areas could’ve been explored.
But that’s clearly asking too much of a cheapie, exploitation sequel that only exists to cash in on the surprise success of a bad movie that started this needless franchise. And judging by how well it did (almost 80 million domestically) and the fact that the movie has already started the countdown to the next purge in its final scene, this will soon be a trilogy.
Aren’t there enough bad ideas in the world today?
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, January 26, 2015