BY VINCENT ABBATECOLA
I guess what makes the horror-movie genre so appealing to studio executives is that if you have a film that is cheap, easy to make, and becomes a hit, you can follow it up with a sequel as quickly as possible to capitalize on the original’s success. It worked for
“Paranormal Activity” (three sequels and a spinoff since its 2009 release, and another sequel set for 2016), 2011’s “Insidious” (a sequel was released last year, and a third installment is scheduled for May 2015), 2004’s “Saw” (six yearly sequels from 2005 to 2010), and even the creepy Annabelle doll from last year’s “The Conjuring” is getting her own movie, which will be released this October.
Last year, the genre found a hit with James DeMonaco’s home-invasion horror film, “The Purge.” The story focused on a family defending themselves against a group of killers during a one-night-a-year murder spree that’s sanctioned by the New Founding Fathers of America. It made a decent amount of money, which led to this second installment, “The Purge: Anarchy,” coming out a little over a year later.
DeMonaco returns to direct, and while it’s not at all as scary as it should be, the use of different characters and a new location make it an occasionally passable sequel.
In 2023, one year after the events of the first film, the annual Purge is about to commence. In the city of Los Angeles, Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), a couple, have to abandon their car when it breaks down on a deserted street, all the while being followed by a gang of purgers.
Meanwhile, Sergeant Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) is determined to find and kill the man who’s responsible for his son’s death. While on the road, he saves a mother, Eva (Carmen Ejogo), and her daughter, Cali (Zoë Soul), from a group of armed purgers. After the three come across Shane and Liz, Leo promises to protect the four individuals as he navigates them through the city as they attempt to survive the deadliest night of the year.
Some of the characters in the original film were irritating in their behavior and actions, but those in this sequel are far less annoying. Although the characters are predictably underwritten for this kind of film, they are at least given a tad more depth than those in the first installment. Frank Grillo, however, gives the only performance that has some degree of memorability.
James DeMonaco wrote the screenplays for both films, and while the first suffered from the setting being limited to the main character’s house, this film benefits from an expanded location that allows you to see what’s happening on the streets. This provides you with a better sense of the danger that goes on during Purge night. The story, however, tends to get bogged down by the repetitive nature of the cat-and-mouse scenarios that play out during the film.
By focusing more on the outside world, the film also gives more detail of the sociopolitical factors behind the Purge, such as the richer citizens using this event to weed out the poorer citizens. While this is interesting for a while, it gets rather overdone as the story goes on.
Unlike the original film, the sequel is structured more like an action-thriller than a horror-thriller, and because of that, there really aren’t many scares to be had, but DeMonaco is able to establish a sense of dread in the film’s more tense moments. If he ever gets a hold of stronger horror material, I’m sure he could make something better and scarier.
Right before the end credits, some screen text notifies the audience that there are 364 days until the next annual Purge. In terms of this film series, I’m hoping “The Purge: Anarchy” is the last one. However, judging by opening week receipts of nearly $30 million and its production budget of only $9 million, that wish will likely be purged.
Final grade: C