The Purge: Anarchy has a finger on the pulse (or perhaps the carotid artery) of our times with its class-warfare plot.
Last year's The Purge was a surprise success, financially if not critically, so a sequel was inevitable. Anarchy strips away some of the flaws of the original, which was hampered by irrelevant subplots and a villain whose preppy psycho shtick was distractingly cartoonish. Like the first film, it mixes social commentary with thriller tropes, but it picks one point—that the rich are evil—and blasts away. Repeatedly.
In 2023, the purge is an annual American holiday ("Stay safe!" is tantamount to "Happy holidays!") when, for 12 hours, there are no laws. Citizens are encouraged to "cleanse their souls" by letting out their aggressions. After nine years of annual purging, crime and unemployment rates are incredibly low—at least according to The New Founding Fathers, the political leaders who instituted the ritual.
The populace has mixed feelings. Some wild out with abandon, saving up money to buy "barricade busters" and tricking out cars and vans with post-apocalyptic renegade starter kits. The wealthy, too cowardly to venture outside, hire people to martyr themselves from the safety of their palatial tarp-covered rooms. Much of the middle class and working poor lock down their homes and lay low, praying to survive.
The first film focused on one of the latter, with Ethan Hawke portraying a father fending off a home invasion. Anarchy takes to the streets, following an unlikely quintet thrown together by circumstance and struggling to reach safety. It hearkens back to Walter Hill's 1979 film The Warriors, a similar but more elegantly told tale about marauding gangs in a lawless landscape.
Four members of the group are on the streets involuntarily. A couple (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) is stranded by car trouble. (Really? You'd think they'd hunker down well ahead of the purge instead of running errands, saying, "Oh, we've got an hour or two. We'll be fine.")
A mother and daughter (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul) had intended to hide in their home, but violent circumstances altered their plans. Frank Grillo plays the fifth member and de facto leader; he clearly has a mission, taking to the streets by choice, heavily armed and driving a car that would've made Mad Max proud.
The group's tribulations include deranged lunatics, wealthy dilettantes enjoying a night of blood sport, amateur but deadly street gangs and a mysterious force that seems professional—and exponentially more lethal than the rest.
Also in play is an organization with a charismatic leader (Michael K. Williams) who wants to lead a revolution against the New Founding Fathers and their purge policy because, in his eyes, it's all about money and the exploitation of an underclass too poor to protect itself. (It won't be surprising if that group anchors a Purge 3.)
It's clear whom writer-director James DeMonaco sides with. Subtlety is nonexistent in Anarchy's valorization of the 99 percent. Though ham-fisted, it delivers better thrills than its predecessor. Just don't expect the likes of Art Pope or the Koch Brothers to give it a thumbs up.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Spinning class."