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The Purge was the surprise hit of the summer of 2013, and also a well-made dystopian horror film.
The first movie in the series was about, broadly-speaking, the normalization of violence in the American society of the near future. The first film was a “siege” horror film, with a normal (think: dysfunctional) nuclear family hunkered down for a night of terror in their supposedly secure suburban home. The film grappled with racism, privilege, and the necessity of meeting violence with violence. That last thematic element might even qualify The Purge as an example of my favorite horror sub-genre: the savage cinema.
Films of that type almost universally concern a key concern: what to do when those you love are faced with brutal violence? Even if you deplore violence -- even if you are a pacifist -- you have to act, right?
The Purge: Anarchy (2014) also succeeded with critics and audiences two summers ago, in part because it so successfully “grows” the nightmarish future world established the first film, and takes the audience outside -- into the pandemonium -- on Purge Night.
Accordingly, there is a feeling of vulnerability and exposure ever-present in this sequel, as though a violent attack could come at any second, or from any direction. There is almost no safety, after all, in a society that has committed the night itself to murder. All the police stations and hospitals are closed. The government is hiding.
It’s just you…and the crazies with guns. I love the sound of the Purge “horns” as the yearly ritual commences. Hunting season has begun, and that noise captures the feeling of menace and danger perfectly.
Additionally, The Purge: Anarchy begins to develop a real political conscience for the burgeoning franchise, but perhaps even more pertinently, examines the issues of personal morality raised by “the purge” ritual.
When is it right to kill? And when is it right, if ever, to sacrifice yourself?
The Purge: Anarchy, in short, offers a remarkable amount of philosophical development for the fledgling franchise, and thus never appears to be a rehash or regurgitation of past glory. The decision to move the series from the relative safety of “indoors” to the total insecurity -- or anarchy -- of the city at large, ultimately pays real dividends in terms of the movie’s horror quotient, as well.
This is one sequel that is as good, if not superior, to the material that spawned it.
“We no longer worship at the altar of Christ…but Smith and Wesson.”
On the night of the annual purge, in 2023, a man called the Sergeant (Frank Grillo) plans to purge. He has mapped out, in fact, his entire plan. A year earlier, his son was murdered by a drunk driver and now he plans to use the occasion of the Purge to take his legally-permissible bloody revenge.
Once The Purge has begun however, the Sergeant runs across two imperiled women on the streets of Los Angeles: Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter, Cali (Zoe Soul). When the Sergeant hears Cali calling for her mother in terror, he intervenes and saves the duo from government troops.
Meanwhile, a bickering young couple, Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) also run across the Sergeant’s path, seeking his protection on the one night a year in America when all crime in America, including murder, is legal.
The sergeant doesn’t want to help the bevy of strangers, but finds that they are up against powerful and wealthy forces of the establishment. Not only are unlucky citizens being shipped to exclusive events as “fodder” for the wealthy, but the government has dispatched special “death squads” to trim the fat out of American society.
“The redistribution of wealth upward through murder must stop.
The Purge: Anarchy features five characters trapped outside on Purge night, and only one of them -- The Sergeant -- is physically and mentally equipped to be there.
Accordingly, the film features some powerful jump scares, as well as some very violent action scenes. One character, a “purger” with a machete, wearing a white mask with the word “God” scrawled on it, is quite an effective avatar of terror. The killer is both anonymous (his identity hidden) and memorable, or distinctive. The legend on his mask suggests how he views himself. As one who take life, or preserves it, on his choice, on his whim.
Most of the film features the protagonists on the run, encountering both street level crime (blue collar) while the last portion of the film involves a different kind of terror, one (white collar) associated with being the playthings of the disdainful rich and powerful.
The Purge: Anarchy is also the film that introduces the idea into the series that the Purge exists for specific political, partisan reasons, and that the government secretly participates in the annual bloodbath. As I wrote about regarding Election Year on Tuesday, the film concerns the idea that the rich can get out of paying their fair share of taxes by eliminating those who are subsidized by the government in terms of unemployment, or health care.
So in this world, being rich -- and remaining rich -- is more important than helping one’s fellow man. That “fellow man” instead is seen as a drag on society, and one who does not deserve to continue to live. It is the logical evolution of the makers vs. takers argument we see in the news all the time.
Only the argument has been sanctified in this fictional world wby religion, and enforced by violence, the so-called “altar of Smith and Wesson.”
Blessed be the Purge?
The government soldier who commits mass murder in the film seems authentically debauched by the moral, decent sergeant. You are supposed to end lives on the Purge, he insists, not save them. Yet the soldier believes he is performing his duty, helping to trim the fat out of American society. He has drunk the kool-aid, and believes he is being patriotic by murdering his fellow citizens.
The Purge, a “policy” or program of the New Founding Fathers, only succeeds at all, we learn in Anarchy, because the government has been augmenting citizen purgers with death squads, sent to inner cities and other locales where society’s fat presumably lives.
This is an intriguing concept, carried into even more specific political terrain in Election Year. What I enjoy and admire most about Anarchy, however, are the tests of morality for the specific characters.
The Sergeant ultimately chooses not to kill the man who murdered his boy, and it’s a good choice. Had he murdered that drunk driver, he would not have survived the night at all. The government soldier is killed, in fact, by that drunk driver. The message is clear. Revenge might be satisfying in the moment, but in the long-run it won’t serve you, or save your life.
Similarly, Eva’s father turns himself over to a family of rich purgers for the fee of $100,000 dollars. He is dying, and Eva can no longer afford his medicine. He too judges the morality of his situation, and determines that he can best serve his family at this juncture by sacrificing himself, and earning his daughter and granddaughter the money they need to escape poverty (and escape, by consequence, Purge Night).
The scene in which this old man -- serving as the sacrificial lamb -- is prepped for the slaughter, is quite upsetting, even in spite of the fact that it is his choice to die. It’s pretty clear he had no other choice but to submit to this barbarism. And just look at the WASP-y, preppie family around him. The family members have protected their expensive mansion in plastic drapery, all around him, so they can murder him without staining the expensive carpet. First they pray over him, and then they take their machetes to him.
It’s sick not only that they “purge” as a family, but that they pray over their victim, believing that they are somehow made holy (or blessed) through the murder of an innocent. They value themselves and their sense of morality too highly.
Still, this scene is rewarding for many reasons. It reveals that those who are rich are willing to “buy” the lives of others for Purge Night. This act has made people, essentially, a commodity, a fact which recurs in the film involving the “God” purger. But this development also makes sense, given the overall nature of the ritual. This rich, entitled family would not want to go out and be endangered on Purge Night, so they order “take out,” essentially; bringing their victim to their home.
The scene in which the Sergeant and the others are auctioned off for the Purge, to the highest bidder, also captures the essential moral bankruptcy of this dystopian culture. Rich people sit at tables with fancy linens, sipping expensive drinks, hungering to murder the less valuable members of society. It is a treat, indeed, when the Sergeant turns the tables on them, and shows that he is capable of “purging” too. Of course, when he commits murder, it is for self-defense, and the defense of innocent sheep in his flock: Eva and Cali, Shane and Liz.
The Purge: Anarchy succeeds by showing us new “geography” in this horrible future world, and by introducing us to characters we care about, and who must make tough choices about how to navigate the law, the Purge. It’s a really good “middle” piece of the Purge series, because it develops and deepens the ideas of the first film, and leads directly into the deepening of the ideas highlighted in the third film.