Saturday, July 19, 2014

THE PURGE: ANARCHY (2014) - A Review

I didn't see The Purge (2013) in a theater, but did finally see it on DVD not that long ago. It was a flawed film, but one driven by an intriguing premise: In the not-too-distant future, America's New Founding Fathers pass a law instituting The Purge, a 12-hour period that comes once a year during which all crimes, up to and including murder, are legal. The Purge is sold as a state-sanctioned way for people to release and cleanse themselves of anger, and to reduce crime.
Within the context of the films, this set-up has a perverse logic to it. You're less likely to do something (rob, cheat, steal) to someone if you are aware that they can legally get back at you in the most extreme manner a few months later. It takes the concept of mutually assured destruction down to a personal level. (Both films also take pains to make it clear that politicians with a rating of "class 10 or higher" are not fair game during The Purge.)

The first film focused on an intact and successful white family that lived in the suburbs. Needless to say, it turned out that even a secure house in the 'burbs wasn't safe from the jealousy and anger that drives people to Purge. Given the current racial and economic politics of life in America, it only makes sense that this sequel shifts to a larger urban area, and features a whole lot more brown-skinned people, racial politics, and keeps coming back to the issue of economic inequality. As an action film that doubles as social commentary, especially in the area of (quite literal) class warfare, The Purge: Anarchy is far more effective and engaging than the recent, and overpraised, Snowpiercer (2014). Where that film was awkward, a little heavy handed, and set in a distant science fiction future, Anarchy is set in a future that feels about as far away as next weekend, and is set in a place - The American City - that will be familiar to most audience members.

Not unlike John Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981), this film centers around a small group of people on the run inside a large city, with all manner of enemies also roaming about. However, while both are essentially action films, Anarchy's unbroken serious tone and political commentary make it a very different kind of action film. Despite the disreputable nature of genre films in some people's eyes, I would hope that, over time, people would give these Purge films a chance, and some serious consideration as social commentary. Like it or not, these films do deserve to be taken seriously. The fact that they work as both entertainment and commentary is not a strike against either notion. It's the fact that these two elements are so naturally intertwined that makes them compelling.
Several of the reviews of this film I read before seeing it bashed it for being based on a totally unrealistic concept. They felt that there was no way that the far right in this country would ever pass a law that sanctioned even a temporary period of anarchy, because they stand for law and order - not lawful disorder. They also felt that there was no way that voters, especially poor and vulnerable ones, would support such a policy.
From my perspective, the idea of The Purge is all too believable. For one thing, people vote against their own interests all the time. Read Thomas Frank's classic What's the Matter with Kansas? as a starting point on that subject.

As for the far right not supporting violent disorder...I think there are some renegade ranchers and immigration protesters in the southwest that could quickly dispel that notion. Some of the things we've seen and heard coming out of these angry mobs could be right out of The Purge. And remember: Much of this anger has been directed at children. By supposedly family-friendly conservatives. Purge much, Fox News?

And The Purge actually is happening all around us, but it's just spread out over the whole year, rather than being confined to one 12-hour period. Smoking is The Purge. Fast food is The Purge. Union busting is The Purge. These insane "stand your ground" laws in some states are The Purge. Whenever a company sells a product that they know will harm or kill X number of people, that's The Purge. The films just amp up something that's already happening for dramatic effect - and as a license to comment on what we're doing to each other.
After seeing the first film, I could easily envision a million different scenarios to explore in future films. This first sequel - surely there will be more - goes down a very fruitful and thought-provoking path, and is far better than the original film in almost all respects. (There are some flaws, including the overly spacious apartments of the supposedly poor main characters, and an overdressed and over the top internet revolutionary, but they don't lessen the overall effectiveness of the film.) With so many possibilities for future episodes, I look forward to seeing where these films go next. Though I am generally against the disease of sequelitis, in this case, I think there are many, many more Purges waiting to be seen. The possibilities are endless.
We've been warned.

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