But while "The Purge" entered theaters with a whimper, it certainly left with a bang, making an unexpectedly healthy return on its modest budget and serving as the foundation of a probably franchise that, with any luck, will rival "Paranormal Activity" in terms of the numbers of installments and complexity of its respective mythology. The first follow-up film, "The Purge: Anarchy," arrives this week and takes an entirely different approach to the annual day of super violent cleansing.
In this "Purge," we follow a small array of characters, instead of the first film's single family: a young couple on the verge of splitting (Zach Gilford form "Friday Night Lights" and Kiele Sanchez from "Lost"), a mother and daughter whose apartment building has been invaded by thugs (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul), and a good man (Frank Grillo) who wishes to utilize the Purge to exact some old-fashioned revenge... The disparate characters of course have to band together in the madness and try to fight their way until the yearly Purge is through.
Will they make it out alive? And what will be left of them? And should you really care? Or is this a franchise that is over before it's begun?
1. The World of 'The Purge' Has Been Expanded Exponentially
One of the things that nagged you as you watched the original "Purge" was that they had established this kind of alternate history future-world, with all of these interesting corners, but the focus was so localized (inside one house, really) that it meant that most of that world was frustratingly just out of view. "The Purge: Anarchy" changes things up considerably, first by setting it in an urban environment, and secondly by giving you a glimpse at the larger Purge experience (for lack of a better term). There are still elements of the universe that could be explored -- a whole bunch, actually -- but you have to trust that "The Purge: Anarchy" will make turn a profit and there will be many more "Purges" to come.
2. Frank Grillo Needs to Be a Movie Star Already
For the past few years, you've probably seen Frank Grillo pop up here and there, most recently as Crossbones in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." But he's never broken through. Not in the way that he should. (He's still being credited as agent no. 3 far too often.) His role in "The Purge: Anarchy" should be what boosts him up to the big leagues, though. Not only is he a handsome, ruggedly physical performer, because, well, he is, he also inhabits the role, of a wounded father desperate for revenge, in a real way that acts as an emotional tether for the audience, a guide that leads them through all of the madness. Grillo is in full-on Kurt Russell-in-"Escape from New York" mode, and it's a beautiful sight to behold. If Grillo wasn't ready for the A-list before "The Purge: Anarchy," he certainly is afterwards.
3. It's Pretty Unsettling
One of the downsides to how contained the first "Purge" was is the fact that we didn't get to see society crumble around the characters, which is really scary. (Or at least marginally scarier than a bunch of masked a-holes terrorizing a suburban family.) In "The Purge: Anarchy," you get to see everything fall apart, and it's pretty intense. There's a great moment when Grillo is driving his souped-up sports car down desolate Los Angeles streets, and a bus, fully engulfed in flames, just rolls by in the background. Nothing is ever said about the bus and its fate is never explained, and it's a moment that stays with you. It's that kind of everyday malevolence that is really freaky.
4. You'll Still Wish It Was Cooler
The thing about "The Purge: Anarchy" is that, even though it certainly makes great strides in expanding the world and giving us more to chew on, you still wish it was cooler than it ended up being. The reason for this is that writer/director James DeMonaco, while a solid-enough storyteller, doesn't have the stylistic chops to meet the demands of such a cool story. This thing should be hyper-stylized; that way you can get engaged more fully and the violence will feel cathartic instead of gratuitous. Sadly, sequences unfold without any real structure or shape, with moments that feel less thought out than captured. It should be as surreal and trippy as "Drive." Just saying.
5. It Sometimes Feels a Little 'Warriors'-y
Some of the best stuff in "The Purge: Anarchy" are the sequences set in abandoned Los Angeles (the city is never identified, but come on), at night, with streetlights blazing. These sequences feel a little bit like the early work of unsung American auteur Walter Hill, whose films "The Driver," "The Warriors," and "Streets of Fire," utilize the urban landscape for maximum effect. Hey, Hill isn't doing much these days, maybe he could come on board for part 3...
6. Except for the Scene That Feels Like 'Mi Vida Loca'
There's a weird sequence in the middle of "The Purge: Anarchy" that feels like "Mi Vida Loca," that Mexican-American coming-of-age movie from the '90s. It's when Grillo and his merry band of survivors visits the apartment of a friend. Everything about it is warm and cuddly but also awkward and unnerving and soon, of course, explodes into violence. It's one of the odder elements of the movie, but also one of the more unforgettable.
7. That Metallica 3D Movie Was Cooler
Let me just say this for the one billionth time: "Metallica: Through the Never," a hybrid concert movie/narrative from last year that starred Dane DeHaan is cool. Like, really, really cool. And it features a similar "breakdown of society" plotline. But it's even cooler -- it was shot in 3D (but doesn't have to be enjoyed in that way) and looks gorgeous. Just watch it. Consider this your public service announcement.
8. The Violence Is Uncomfortable
If you have a problem with violence, this might not be the movie for you. Not only is there tons of violence (and not in a more palpable, stylized way -- see bullet point No. 4), but there are definitely issues of class warfare and the current unease towards the government, that might make you feel a little queasy. We saw the film in a packed theater in Times Square and there were moments when the audience vocally approved of the violent rebellion depicted in the film. It was a little uncomfortable but also kind of galvanizing. Fight the power!
9. Michael K. Williams Is in It
He plays a kind of future-world Malcolm X, broadcasting his messages of overthrowing the government and seizing control over the web (his look is complete with the revolutionary's beret and John Lennon glasses). We hope and pray and wish that he will make it back for future "Purge" adventures.
10. There's Still a Lot of The 'Purge'-verse to Explore
Even though "The Purge: Anarchy" expands the world considerably, there is still much in the "Purge"-verse to explore, and there are some dangling plot threads that can easily be scooped up and continue if the series gets a third entry. We think that a prequel film is the way to go for the next film, before transitioning to an even more brutal future for the fourth film. We need to know what the Purge Wars was and who the New Founding Fathers are (they sound like real jerks). That stuff has always been on the periphery; time to bring it to the forefront. Oh, and maybe Grillo can be there, possibly in old-timey form.
Photo courtesy Universal