With the sole exception of the absolute worst films of the year so far like the offensive God’s Not Dead and just dreadful offerings like Need for Speed and Ride Along, everything else I’ve seen in 2014 to date is just a bit better for having not been The Purge: Anarchy. Seriously. Man this is a terrible movie. The first one (simply titled The Purge) wasn’t good either, but that was just a mediocre flick that happened to waste an intriguing premise. Here, we have that premise shown to be a tone-deaf rant against the top 1% in America. You know, I’m usually game for a satirical work that takes aim at hard right-wing values or makes a statement about Republican Party beliefs, but this is so badly done that I want to be as unassociated with it as possible. When the inevitable Fox News report comes out raging that this is an anti 1% and anti Tea Party film, I won’t bother to defend it one bit. It’s ridiculously poorly made by returning writer/director James DeMonaco, including a scene that is perhaps the worst shot sequence I’ve ever seen. Seriously, as I said on Facebook and Twitter, porn movie shoots would have found it unacceptable. The film wastes a rare leading man role for Frank Grillo and reduces young up and comer Keith Stanfield to bit player, among other sins. This is among the very worst flicks of the year so far, bar none. I might wind up in the minority on this one, but I don’t care one bit. The Purge: Anarchy is crap ladies and gentlemen, I can’t say it any clearer than that.
As has apparently become the formula in this now franchise, we pick up on the day of the annual Purge with citizens finishing their day-to-day activities and making sure they’re home in time. I’ll get to my issues with that very premise later, but for those of you who don’t know the background of this thing, about a decade from our current time, there was a wave of a new type of politician elected in America. They’re called the New Founding Fathers of America, and their big idea is “The Purge”, one day a year where all crime is legal, including murder. Apparently, it works, with crime levels and unemployment almost nonexistent. This time around though, the focus is on how this basically is a method of exterminating the poor in order to benefit the rich. A potentially juicy premise, but then we’re introduced to annoying and stock characters who consistently do stupid things. There’s a single mother (Carmen Ejogo) and her teenaged daughter (Zoë Soul) who go from safely locked up in their apartment to out on the street when a purging neighbor breaks in and then a mysterious SWAT team storms their complex. There’s bickering couple (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) who have their car break down at the worst possible time. And then there’s a tough guy (Frank Grillo) who’s planning to purge, but for a potentially noble reason. When the quartet of likely victims run into the guy, he reluctantly begins to protect them, hoping to keep them safe while moving towards his ultimate goal. The rich seem to be after them, and the more we learn about that situation, the more off the rails this thing goes.
I’d normally be at least happy for Frank Grillo getting a leading gig to sink his teeth into, but my praise is rather limited. He’s utterly wasted here though in a stock tough guy on a mission type role. This is basically a boring version of The Punisher without the name, and while Grillo doesn’t sleepwalk through the park, there’s only so much that he can do. He’s fine and the best part of this dreck, but he doesn’t come anywhere close to saving it. Everyone else basically just has to scream and try not to die. Zoë Soul exists basically to talk about how The Purge is bad and a means to help the rich, while Carmen Ejogo’s character is as wildly inconsistent as it gets. Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez have even less to do, while Michael K. Williams chews the scenery as an anti Purge resistance leader. The cast also includes Keith Stanfield in a blink and you’ll miss it part, along with the likes of John Beasley, Jack Conley, Edwin Hodge, and Justina Machado. They don’t all look embarrassed to be in this, but they kind of should be.
The biggest problem here is that James DeMonaco isn’t a good filmmaker at all. His writing is as cliched and stupid as it gets (during the first act, I’d say that “stay safe” is a third of the dialogue spoken, and there’s no shortage of dialogue either), while his direction is often clueless. Back on the writing for a second though…there’s no logic to this purging business. Why does it reduce crime? Is there another political party or is this more of a single party overlord type system? More importantly, why does anyone go out on the day of The Purge? That makes no sense to me, and I could go on (like why the only crime that seems to happen is murder, just to name one thing that bugged me), but I’d just get madder. On the directing side, DeMonaco loves to randomly shake the camera and seems puzzled by the concept of light. That leads us to a scene in an apartment building that is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. The lights in the room are way too bright for the shot, and instead of changing them, they press on. Worse still, DeMonaco doesn’t avoid having them in the frame either, literally once or twice blocking characters and ruining the shot. It’s just amateur hour all around folks, with cinematographer Jacques Jouffret probably sharing some of the blame here too. There’s nothing good about this one though, except the occasional borderline cool in a morbid sort of way moment. Those are few and far between though, trust me there. I’ll concede that the premise could give way to a solid film at some point, but so far this franchise is not off to a strong start. I’m sure that some will say that this movie is an upgrade over the last one, but I see things quite differently.
Without question, The Purge: Anarchy is one of the very worst films that I’ve seen this year. If something else this bad comes out in 2014, I might just want to institute a cinematic purge. I kid, but not really. This is an atrocious movie, I can’t stress that enough. If you liked the first one, this is much worse, so avoid it. If you hated the first one, this is even worse, so also avoid it. Basically, you need to avoid The Purge: Anarchy. The flick isn’t even so bad it’s good, it’s just so bad that it’s bad. Real bad. Yuck.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!