Writer/director Dan Gilroy burned up the screen with his rocking debut Nightcrawler, a deeply unnerving study of a social alien, scumbag nightly news journalism and unchecked professional ambition featuring one of Jake Gyllenhaal’s very finest onscreen performances. After a few years of anticipation, Gilroy returns with Roman J. Israel, Esq. a character-study-cum-legal-noir with the ever-reliable Denzel Washington decked out in an outdated plum-colored suit and a frizzly afro. Obviously, I was as game as a Michael Douglas in a David Fincher movie to see what Gilroy would deliver next. Read More
The Purge had a fascinating conceit – that society was allowed to kill, steal, and rape with carte blanche for one 12 hour period annually – but was ultimately a bitter disappointment. The characters were thin, the home invasion plot familiar and it just generally lacked on tension and legitimate scares. For having launched from such a strong starting block, it face-planted like an Olympic athlete with her shoelaces tied together.
The second installment could have picked up the pieces, returning to the franchise’s promising main premise and course correcting those faltering elements into something more thoughtful, nuanced, unsettling and all around riskier and more rewarding. Instead, The Purge: Anarchy, the second in a planned 18-wheeler of a franchise, phones it in like a 1980s stock broker. In truth, it’s an impoverished, impossibly dull affair that deserves to be put down like a sick dog.
Writer and director Frank DeMonaco returns to helm this shit-ship, adding little to the intriguing foundation he laid out just last year (again, that intrigue exists only in the basic idea of the purge, not the execution). From one scene to the next, DeMonaco captures his footage as if by accident. The camera is never in the right place, bobbing for all the wrong reasons, and scurrying to keep up with the impossibly dull happenings. It’s as if DeMonaco only had one take with each scene and yet was still bustling behind trying to keep up with anything and everything going on. It’s as visually interesting as a Bob Ross painting, had the same hole of a soul and seemed to take about as long to make.
Going beyond just boring his audience, DeMonaco’s film seems intent on actively offending them as well. His offsetting penchant for masochism and violent sexual assaults are the most horrifying elements in his thematically sour construct, but not for the reasons he thinks. Watching a yellow-toothed, tatted-up Mexican cholo chase a neighbor around her apartment, salivating at his opportunity to finally get a piece of “dat ass” is unsettling on the most basic of levels. The aggressively distressing aspect of DeMonaco’s persisting thirst for wanton rape though is his passive depiction of said acts. While he’s not glorifying them (at least not so far as I can tell), there’s some twisted reveling going down that I don’t want to even begin psychoanalyzing. Without any semblance of irony or a significant contribution to larger thematic elements, this recurring motif shows warped sadism and make us question why we’re justifying his “art” by watching it in the first place.
This is largely because there’s nothing intelligible about DeMonaco’s unencumbered violence against women; it’s sickening, twisted and without meaning. This ever-looming threat of rape goes on to be a central concern for the two female leads of the film and one that they look around every corner for. And yet this seems to disregard the fact that the real bulk of the film seem to be centered on this idea of the rich versus the poor; the 99% rising up and claiming back what is theirs. In a proverbial sense, the rich rape the poor; buying them up to purge in designer garments with pinkies upturned or auctioning them off for a most dangerous game scenario. That’s a metaphor I can buy into but spare me the perverted grotesqueries.
As the film progresses, so does our need to check the time. Perhaps DeMonaco’s offense against our good sensibilities can be forgiven given the gruff subject matter and R-rating but his proclivity for boring us to tears cannot be written off so easily. Each character is as flat as a blueberry pancake and just as cliche: the feuding young couple, the snarky teenager, the stronger-than-she-thinks momma bear, the crusty loner. They’re six degrees of bland; tropes of tropes of tropes. Watching them axed off isn’t so much a relief as it is a dull inevitability. Frank Grillo as the mysterious, combative man on a mission is the only one worth watching but even he is saddled with dialogue so stale that it feels like he’s spitting it out through mouthful of old bread. So it goes.
And even though we’re told danger is omnipresent on this most heinous of holidays, there’s never a sense of dread left to prevail. The characters kick and scream but we in the audience are left in fits of yawning. For a movie billed as a horror thriller, I was never once horrified (at least in the way that I ought to be), never once thrilled.
Since the events of the first film have virtually no bearing on anything that comes to fruition in this second installment, don’t let unfamiliarity steer you away from it. Instead, you can avoid The Purge: Anarchy purely because it’s a plain and simple bad movie. It’s a poorly executed snuff film with potty-level writing, improbably flat characters and badgered, bandaged direction. But it’s a shame really, as I continue to believe that there is a good film that could come from DeMonaco’s “crime hall pass” premise. Unfortunately, this guy steering the boat may as well be blind in both eyes. So please just go ahead and call it quits. Pack it up people, pull the plug. We’re done here.