ReThink Review: The Purge: Anarchy -- An Unlikely Allegorical Franchise

In 2013, The Purge surprised the movie industry by making almost $90 million at the box office -- a feat made even more impressive (and profitable) considering the film's $3 million budget. A possible reason for the film's overachievement might have been that The Purge, while marketed as a horror film, was actually a lean, scrappy political allegory about an alternate universe/not-too-distant future where the US government sanctions a yearly 12-hour orgy of no-holds-barred violence to supposedly cleanse the nation's soul of its citizens' violent desires, but with ulterior motives that seem more racist, classist, and politically conservative. While the first film took place almost entirely in a large house, The Purge: Anarchy plays out in city streets, showing you how different types of people experience the Purge in a franchise that continues to surprise and impress. Watch the trailer for The Purge: Anarchy below.

The Purge: Anarchy, which was naturally filmed in Los Angeles, follows a mother and teenage daughter (Carmen Ejogo, Zoë Soul) and movie history's most boring couple (Kiele Sanchez, Zach Gilford) who band together to survive the night while their heavily-armed protector, Sergeant (Frank Grillo), is hell-bent on vengeance for an unknown offense. As the five attempt to cross town to a safe apartment, they encounter several types of purgers, including hillbillies in ATVs, masked kidnappers, wealthy thrill seekers, and a suspiciously well-equipped paramilitary group. But one of the best things about The Purge films is that anyone, no matter how normal or friendly they seem, could be a potential killer.

When I first reviewed The Purge, it ended up being a two-parter because I had so much to say about the film's political aspects, and Anarchy takes those ideas even further. While the fact that the poor suffer the most during the Purge is only implied or briefly alluded to in the first film, Anarchy puts it front and center by taking you out of the gated communities and mansions of the original and putting you in the world of those who don't have the money to safely wait out the Purge behind expensive security systems or intimidating weaponry, where the less-than-privileged can't stop people from invading their homes as the homeless -- who are the main target of purgers -- attempt to hide in underground tunnels.

The shadowy leader of an anti-Purge resistance group (Michael K. Williams) makes clear that the Purge isn't about the ritual purification of the nation's soul, but is instead a way to keep the disenfranchised scared, weak, and poor as the rich consolidate their power with the money that would otherwise go to creating a more equitable society. In a movie where anyone could be a murderer, it's the rich who are painted as the film's biggest villains as they wait in fortified mansions and fancy ballrooms for mercenaries to deliver fresh victims whose lives will be bought or auctioned off to the highest bidders.

Some commenters criticized my review of The Purge for claiming that the film is a critique of conservative ideology by taking it to its logical, inhumane conclusions. But Anarchy should put those objections to rest with its depiction of the 1% living in their bubble of wealth while using their quasi-religious worship of the Purge and the New Founding Fathers who created it as moral justification for their own greed, cruelty, racism, and classism. On the flip side, we also see a stockbroker who was murdered as retribution for swindling people out of their savings.

And to rile Republicans more, I'd say that Anarchy also takes a shot at the right's obsession with guns and their belief in their magical problem-solving abilities. In the first film, guns are both the cause of and solution to the dangers the main characters face. That's still true in Anarchy, but there's more of a sense that the presence of guns, poor decision-making, and the ability to kill without consequences leads to no one ever being safe, even when you're amongst those closest to you. When non-rich would-be killers point their guns at the main characters proclaiming "It's my right", I not only hear gun owners explaining why they should be able to own all the assault rifles they can afford, but also wanna-be tough guys in states with Stand Your Ground laws justifying why they might blow someone away for the slightest of perceived offenses. It's the talk of people not cleansing their sins, but lashing out because of frustration, desperation, entitlement, and a perverted sense of justice -- all hallmarks of the Tea Party.

A lot of critics, including myself, felt that The Purge had interesting ideas but ultimately failed as the horror film it was marketed as. But with Anarchy, the pretense of being a horror movie seems to have been abandoned, leaving something pretty unique: a political allegory dystopian action thriller that slyly attacks conservative ideology as the true motivations behind the Purge are slowly revealed across multiple films. I can't think of anything out there like it, and while neither film is great, Anarchy (like its predecessor) succeeded in leaving me hoping that the next sequel will expand the scope and depth of the Purge concept. And if the filmmakers continue their strategy of making The Purge films lean (in terms of budget) and mean (in terms of violence), who knows where this unlikely franchise could lead -- and what it might say?