Thursday, July 17, 2014

'The Purge: Anarchy' (2014) directed by James DeMonaco

As far as ridiculous movie premises go The Purge takes some beating.  Set in a near-future US, the government has decreed that the best way to reduce crime is that for one night a year all crime (including murder) is legal.  The thinking is that if the populace has a release valve for their repressed anger then the other 364 nights of the year will be relatively peaceful.  Amazingly it sort of works - 'Purge Night' is in its sixth year as the film begins and, though it the majority barricade themselves inside their houses and pray for sunrise, it at least appears to generally accepted as a worthwhile endeavour.

This is a sequel to the 2013's The Purge, which used the night as an excuse to stage a relatively low-budget home invasion movie.  The sequel sets its sights much higher, guiding us through the streets of Los Angeles as the citizens tear each other apart.  With gangs of flamethrower wielding maniacs, van-based minigun nutters and ranting sniper rifle wielding egomaniacs prowling about it's a pretty crazy 12 hours.

Stuck in the middle of all the mayhem is a pretty standard gaggle of stock types.  There's mother and daughter pair Eva and Cali, dragged out of their homes by a mysterious paramilitary army. Shane and Liz, whose car breaks down at the worst possible time and the mysterious 'Sergeant' -  a thinly veiled ripoff of The Punisher.  Thrown together by fate the group pick their way through the carnage, looking for a safe haven - or in The Punisher's case - bloody vengeance.

'yer cast
There's a pungent whiff of John Carpenter to all of this and DeMonaco relishes showing off seedy, urban environments populated with over-the-top, extravagantly costumed weirdoes. The premise allows for a cavalcade of violence throughout, mostly through gunshot wounds. This isn't some splatter flick though, and while you get your fair share of bloody squibs blasting holes in people, a surprisingly amount of the the violence is either threatened or left to our imagination - gotta get that R rating after all.

The central idea - that an awful lot of Americans are secretly frothing gun-crazy psychopaths with fear of punishment as the only thing stopping them heading off on a Grand Theft Autoesque rampage of death and destruction - is inherently satirical. The Purge: Anarchy is thus easily at its best when its directly engaging with politics.  It doesn't feel enough to say the satire here is 'on the nose', more that it's screaming while beating the nose in with a baseball bat.

DeMonaco has refreshingly little time for nuance in his political commentary. Going straight for the jugular, he introduces the concept of being a 'Martyr'.  Essentially if you're poor you can sell yourself to a wealthy family as a sacrificial lamb.  They'll carve you up and send your relatives a hefty cheque for privilege.  DeMonaco shoots this scene like a live action political cartoon - an elderly, dignified working class black man sitting Buddhalike surrounded by grinning, primped, psychotic WASPS.  

Better is to come later in the film, when we enter an elite hunting club run by 1%ers with the 99% as their quarry.  I have seen few more satisfying things than a load of hoity-toity snobs in suits getting their shit wrecked up bigtime by a very angry Punisher analogue.  If nothing else DeMonaco has his finger on what the people want: when a horribly witchy Republican woman is held at gunpoint by our heroes the audience actually began murmuring "shoot the bitch!" at the screen.  There's similar assent when we see a mutilated man strung up in front of a bank bearing a sign "This man stole our pensions."  Eh, he probably deserved it.

The audience's palpable bloodlust makes you think that maybe DeMonaco is actually onto something with this Purge idea.  After all we're all gathered to watch people getting blown away in increasingly creative ways - and it's undeniably pleasurable to watch a bunch of arrogant rich pricks getting theirs at the hands of our firmly proletariat heroes.  

It's a shame then that these sequences are broken up by the rest of the film - which turns out to be a pretty by-the-numbers action thriller.  The further we get away from political commentary the more we stray into territory that has the unmistakable stink of straight-to-DVD. None of the characters are particularly compelling, well written or well performed, though at least they manage to look believably terrified most of the time.

It's also a bit of a let down visually - the film is bathed in queasy piss-yellowish light that looks a shade too artificial for the grittiness of the material.  DeMonaco obviously has it in him to compose a decent shot - there's a few moments that make you sit up and pay attention - but the majority of the direction is pretty bland - especially some of the later action sequences, which are so impersonal they could be lifted straight from any number of B movies.

The Purge: Anarchy is undoubtedly a B-movie; but when it's unapologetically acting out revolutionary wish-fulfilment it's at least a B-Movie with its heart in the right place.  The rest of the time it's a faintly bland, largely identikit bit of fluff.  This isn't a film to run out and see, but if you want a bit of schlock in your life you could do worse.


Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist is on limited release from May 13th.

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