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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

The Purge: Anarchy movie review: standing up to power and privilege

The Purge Anarchy green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Doubles down on the first film’s angry approach to class, inequality, and violence, and once again reflects an image of America that is ugly but only slightly distorted.
I’m “biast” (pro): loved the first film
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Last year, The Purge astonished me with one of the most daring speculative conceits to come out of a Hollywood studio in maybe forever, or certainly since the dystopic sci-fi of the 1970s. In a near-future America under what appears to be a religious dictatorship called the New Founding Fathers, all crime including murder is permitted — nay, encouraged — one night a year for a 12-hour period called the Purge. Vague religious justifications about “cleansing” smash up against the American “right” to be armed to the teeth and defend oneself against all threats, perceived or actual, with hints that Purge Night is a justification for eliminating the poor, who are unable to protect themselves adequately during a violent free-for-all. The very narrow perspective of the film can account for some of the possible implausibilities and impracticalities that would beset such a scenario in reality: the story takes place entirely within the upper-middle-class home of a well-off family whose protective bunkering for the night is shattered, but not before we get a taste of the propaganda, some or all of which may not be true, that the American people are subjected to regarding the Purge and how successful and all-American it is. So it’s all just plausible enough to succeed as a breathtakingly direct confrontation of the American culture of violence. I still can’t believe Hollywood, which trades on that culture, actually had anything to do with.

Now, with The Purge: Anarchy, we get the other side of what it’s like to hunker down — or not — on Purge Night. With just a slight opening up of his intentionally ugly concept, returning writer and director James DeMonaco deals with a few of the questions the first film raised and doubles down on the angry issues of class, inequality, and violence that the first film broached.

One of those questions: Could people really turn off their sense of morality for one night? We might have guessed that the answer, at least for many people, would be No, and we see as much here in the unnamed putative badass (Frank Grillo: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Homefront) who sets out on Purge Night to get revenge for a wrong that has been done him (we don’t learn what that wrong is for quite a while). But he gets sidetracked — he simply cannot help himself — rescuing Eva (Carmen Ejogo: Pride and Glory, The Brave One) and her teenaged daughter Cali (Zoë Soul: Prisoners), who have been dragged out of their apartment by mysterious paramilitary troopers and are about to be led away to some presumably awful fate as Badass intervenes. And then he cannot turn away married couple Shane (Zach Gilford: Devil’s Due, The Last Stand) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez: A Perfect Getaway, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium), who also need protection: their car broke down as they were on their way to their safe Purge Night place, and now they’re being chased by scary dudes in scary masks, who probably want to kill them just for fun.

There’s a certain irony in the fact that as DeMonaco shows us what the fullest expression of rage-fueled entitlement backed up by firepower means, it’s the downtrodden who get to step into the forefront here. Before meeting up with Badass, Eva and Cali were menaced by their super, a disgusting man who insisted that Purge Night meant he was gonna get to indulge his “right” to do whatever he wants with the women, regardless of what they want. (Hint: They don’t want him.) Hampering the little group’s attempts to get across town to a potential safe place are, um, activities connected to how the rich get to “cleanse” and “release the beast” without putting themselves in danger (like by being out on the streets on Purge Night). At first I thought it was wonderful to see that of this group of five central characters, three of them are women, two of them not white. And then I realized it was even more wonderful, because even though this society has forced Eva and Cali into a victim slot — they’re poor women at the mercy of the rich and of men — they are in no way victims. There’s a very conscious point to be taken from the fact that our heroes here are, by a slim majority, women.

Where the first film played around with the morality of horror movies — particularly regarding how movies manipulate our feelings about the violence we’re witnessing in what was essential a home-invasion flick — Anarchy does something similar with videogame movies. This is the second movie this year (after Edge of Tomorrow) that feels more like a videogame than any movie that’s ever been based on a game: navigating dark city streets while unseen snipers are shooting at you, and avoiding other deadly obstacles, is very gamelike, and later there’s a sequence that overtly references gaming… because that’s what Purge Night can be if you have the right resources. Except here, we are sympathizing with the NPCs, and we want them to win. But the game is rigged against them, as it always is. There’s a privilege in being a player, in all senses of the word.

What other Hollywood films address such matters so bluntly? I can’t think of any. With Anarchy, DeMonaco holds his mirror up again to America, and the image it reflects isn’t a very distorted one. Unpleasant, yes, but far from unrecognizable.

see also:
The Purge review: good, decent, patriotic violence
The Purge: Election Year movie review: soylent green is Donald Trump!
The First Purge movie review: a ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ for #BlackLivesMatter

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The Purge: Anarchy (2014) | directed by James DeMonaco
US/Can release: Jul 18 2014
UK/Ire release: Jul 25 2014

MPAA: rated R for strong disturbing violence, and for language
BBFC: rated 15 (strong bloody violence, strong language)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Mike

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  • Aaron Jones

    I’m glad you liked this movie, for me this was the cinematic illustration of the idea of The Purge that I wanted to see when the first film came out.

  • Johnny Rotten

    It sucked so bad we left early. it made me want to go rematch the first one.

  • What sucked so bad about it?

  • FR2011

    Great review. Cannot wait to see it!

  • Johnny Rotten

    Where do I begin? The plot, the characters, the acting, the directing, the lack of gore besides the occasional gunshot death, the cinematography, etc…

  • That’s a list of elements of the film. What’s wrong with those elements, in your eyes? Just one! Tell us why, say, one of those characters didn’t work for you. Why is “the lack of gore” a problem?

  • thispcsx

    K love it too MaryAnn

  • AnonyMOUSE

    This movie was disgusting, it made me cringe. I can’t believe someone would even make a movie like this, it was terrible, and I cannot understand how the people in it we’re so evil, Rich people ARE NOT LIKE THAT. They looked like monters omg. I just hope the human race has more good than bad, this movie made me question the collevtive morality of mandkind, esp. with the recent events in palestine and waht-not. ALso I’m 15 so don’t hate me. Bye

  • bronxbee

    there may not be *more* good than bad, but there’s just enough good to make it worth hanging in.

  • #NotAllRichPeople

  • Bluejay

    Oh, I think there’s more good than bad. I just measured it the other day.

  • Tonio Kruger

    But poor people are?


  • Tonio Kruger

    Class traitor. ;-)

  • I wish I were rich. But I’m not.

  • I think maybe you don’t realize that I’m goofing on the #NotAllMen thing, which is itself a sarcastic reaction to men who fail to take misogyny seriously because “not all men” are misogynist. In the same way, saying “not all rich people are like that” is in no way a refutation of class warfare.

  • Tonio Kruger

    You meant to say that the #YesAllMen thing is a sarcastic reaction to the hashtag #NotAllMen, right?

    Because #NotAllMen sounds like that type of hashtag that you would normally be against since it is commonly used by male critics of feminism. And most of the people who use it are not being sarcastic.

    Unless I’m missing something, which I might be.

  • Danielm80

    The joke is that AnonyMOUSE is employing the same brand of over-the-top self-pity used by the “Not all men are pigs” crowd. MaryAnn is pointing out the parallel.

    And as we all know, the funniest jokes are the ones that have to be explained at great length.

  • As far as I’m aware, #NotAllMen did not become a hashtag — and then start getting deployed ironically and sarcastically — until feminists started it *as* a hashtag in response to the attitude expressed in those words. The hashtag was summing up and dismissing the attitude.

    Yes, feminists are *against* the idea that misogyny isn’t a problem because not all men are misogynist.

  • AnonyMOUSE

    Um, I’m not joking, not all rich ppl are crazy sociopathic peeps like they are portrayed in the movie, in fact even in number one the rich people were so demented and crazier and it’s the lowerclass people that are sane.

  • AnonyMOUSE

    Wait did I accidentlally make an allusion to something, whoops, it wasn’t intentional.

  • Danielm80

    I didn’t think you were joking. It’s obvious that you’re deadly serious. MaryAnn was making a joke by alluding to #NotAllMen. If you don’t know what that is, you’re probably better off.

  • You do realize that this film is satire, don’t you?

  • Tonio Kruger

    A belated thanks for explaining all that.

  • Tonio Kruger

    I must admit that I thought that this film was a little better than the first one — even though some of the plot twists were a tad predictable. (Was anyone really surprised by some of the actions of the Frank Grillo character? I wasn’t.)

    However, I did not like it enough to forgive the flaws in the first movie and it doesn’t help that the Purge films have a certain self-congratulatory air to them that make it difficult for me to take them seriously. Last time I checked, the idea that hunting humans is evil wasn’t exactly controversial and it seems more than a tad politically incorrect to devote so much attention to a movie about fictional beheadings at a time when real-life beheadings are taking place on America’s southern border and getting little attention from most Purge fans.

  • Bluejay

    at a time when real-life beheadings are taking place on America’s southern border

    Citation, please? The only relevant article I found was one that debunked that idea:


    There are apparently gang-related beheadings in Mexico itself, but not at the US border. There are, of course, other (US perpetrated) atrocities going on there.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Fair enough. I’m currently reading a book by Stephanie Elizondo Griest called All the Agents and Saints which is based on research she did on the Mexican and Canadian borders and she admits that drug-related violence — including beheadings — is more to be found on the Mexican side. However, she also says that many of her fellow Tejanos no longer crossed over the border like they used to because the border towns where they used to feel safe have been affected by drug-related violence.

    I could probably cite other sources but Griest’s book is the main item that inspired my rant and given the fact that she is not exactly a big fan of Trump or the “build the wall” crowd, I find her viewpoint more convincing than most. Then again my first two girlfriends were Mexican citizens and so are many of the relatives on my father’s side of the family so biast. And part of me would dearly like to believe for my family’s sake that the whole thing is a hoax but then part of me would like to think the same thing about the ecological damage she mentions in regard to south Texas and yet part of me knows better.

  • Bluejay

    Thanks. The book’s description on Amazon sounds fascinating. And I’m currently enjoying the last book you mentioned, The Refrigerator Monologues. You should just keep casually mentioning stuff you’ve read, and I’ll compile a reading list. :-)

    With all the shit that’s going on (and that’s *been* going on for decades), I hope your family has been staying safe.

  • Tonio Kruger

    You’re welcome.

    Part of the reason I keep coming to this site is because I get so many ideas for reading material — not just from you and MaryAnn but from various other people who post here. And of course, as I mentioned on another thread, I often find out about certain good movies that I would normally overlook if not for this site.

  • Bluejay

    Danielm80 has reminded me that he actually recommended the Valente book to me sometime ago, and of course I, a sieve-minded idiot, had forgotten about it. So you both share credit for calling my attention to it. :-)

  • Danielm80

    Well, I’ve been extremely vigilant about advocating for Catherynne Valente the past few years (especially the Fairyland series), so if anyone on this site hasn’t heard of her books, I feel that I’ve failed in my duties.

  • Tonio Kruger

    I’m sorry, Danielm80. You probably have mentioned that name on this site but for some reason, it didn’t sink in until I read about her work on the site of a female blogger (obviously not MaryAnn). My bad.

    I didn’t think I was old enough to start having senior moments but apparently I was wrong…

  • Bluejay

    Perhaps we need another “What’s Everyone Reading?” post on this site so we can chime in with our recent favorites. I’ve got a few.

  • Danielm80

    We really do, but it can wait a week or two till MaryAnn is back from her travels.

  • Agreed. I like hearing about what everyone is reading and what they recommend. I’ve been on a Science Fiction kick lately, but just decided to go back for some Brandon Sanderson and start his huge Stormlight Archive series.

    Maybe we can get a thread going soon?

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