JULY 26, 2014
A thought occurred to me during The Purge: Anarchy, after I realized that it barely counted as a horror movie - the concept COULD lend itself to a variety of genres. They've covered home invasion horror and now urban thriller (it's more like Judgment Night than the average horror movie), and I could easily come up with comedic entries (stick the Griswolds in the thick of it in an area where crimes are less murder-y), drama (modern Romeo & Juliet or Hatfield & McCoys scenario with the two families stuck together during the Purge? ), or even sci-fi since it's already taking place in the (near) future - what happens 50 years from the first Purge?
Indeed, the biggest complaint folks had about the first film is that they established this fascinating scenario that could be the backdrop for any number of stories, and opted to go with a home invasion movie that only fleetingly invoked the concept - what a waste! Thankfully, returning writer/director James DeMonaco listened, and with a little more money to spend (still much less than any other movie playing on 3000 screens right now) he set his sequel on the streets, where the concept never once leaves the equation. Our quintet of heroes (a couple, a mother and daughter, and The Punisher, essentially, played by Frank Grillo) are always on the move, always under threat from both their pursuers (which include the masked folks they highlight in the trailer to make the film look more horror-ish than it really is) and their perceived saviors.
One of the best sequences in the film involves the group entering the home of one of their friends, where things just seem "off" right from the start. The friend keeps snipping at her sister, and the sister is very mean to her husband, while their parents are overly nice. You know SOMETHING is going to happen, and the fact that there's not much anyone can do about it elevates the suspense, keeping the tension nice and high despite the fact that they're off the streets and safe from snipers and such. DeMonaco also paints a bigger picture of what folks do on the night - there's a (unintentional?) big laugh moment when we see a good ol' boy plop himself on his roof with a six pack and a sniper rifle - this is just how he celebrates. Another pair of Purgers give a respectable nod to the driver of an armored truck that's going about its own thing, only to get mowed down by a guy with a .50 cal in the back of it.
However, that's it. I guess we can assume that the folks who might want to use the occasion to rob a Best Buy or steal new cars to replace their junky old Chevys (totally just theoretical ideas, not remotely what I'd consider if the Purge was real, of course) are too scared to go outside what with all the murderers, but since it's definitely a "Let's use the occasion to wipe out poor people" affair, would the traditional Purgers (the ones who didn't take the time to install a .50 cal in the back of their truck) be OK with a middle class guy just trying to embellish his home theater for free? Is there a "Purge code"? On that front, DeMonaco fails yet again to really dive into the nitty gritty about his scenario - it's fun to ask questions about Purge logic on Twitter to make your followers laugh ("Can I file my taxes that day and cheat?"), but some are actually legit issues that might arise.
For example, near the end of the film a major character is shot, but doesn't die - the Purge ends before the shooter can take him out definitively. However, he's injured badly, and has to be raced to the hospital - if he died, does the shooter have to answer for his crime, since he died after Purge hours? And they still haven't explained what happens to people with legitimate health emergencies during the time - do pregnant women going into labor have to just wait it out? And before you say "If they were that close to their due date they'd just go to the hospital early" - my wife delivered three weeks early, after a labor so mild she considered going into work before we learned what was actually happening. Shit happens, can't always plan ahead.
On that note, other people have questioned the logic of why the young couple (Matt Saracen and Nikki of Nikki and Goddamn Paulo fame) was even out as the Purge was about to start, but I just assume the world has a law of sorts instructing folks to carry on as normal on that day (March 21, 2023 would be a Tuesday/workday, for the record). You know in Deep Impact when Morgan Freeman is like "A comet might hit us in two years, until then you have to go to work and pay your bills"? Something like that - you can't just stop your presumably important job because you were worried about the Purge. Also they're on their way to his sister's, and we see that some folks have automatic (expensive) barricades for their doors and windows (like Ethan Hawke's family in the first one) while others need to manually board them up with plywood - it's safe to assume his sister's place was well fortified and thus safer than their own, prompting the 11th hour trip after work that day.
I do question the logic for Grillo's character, however. I guess this counts as a spoiler as it's not until the final reel that he lays it all out, but it's been made pretty obvious by pictures on his wall, a visit from his ex-wife, etc - Grillo plans to murder the guy that killed his son. But even though he knows where the guy lives (he even disabled one of the guy's barriers two weeks earlier) and has no other Purge business, he waits until it starts to leave his house and drive there. Why didn't he just hang out in the neighborhood, pop the guy the second the Purge began, and then go home to be safe for the rest of it? I know the answer is "Then there'd be no movie" but since we don't know much about his character (he's not even named) we can't just make assumptions to explain his behavior. If we knew he was a lawyer and had a trial that day preventing him from getting a move on, fine - but there's nothing to pin it on, and thus it seems like a plot hole. It's weird that DeMonaco began his career strictly as a screenwriter, as he is seemingly better at directing (or trusting a DP) than writing; the film looks great (if a bit dark at times) but a lot of the dialogue will make you cringe, as many folks speak in broad strokes and as if the other characters in the room weren't just as aware of what was happening. Hearing characters say things like "Those guys are still after us!" reminded me of watching a TV show where characters need to remind us of what was going on after the commercial break.
But logic/dialogue issues aside, it's a pretty good movie, and by embracing the actual Purge it comes out as superior to the first. The ensemble nature is a good idea, pitting many of the non-Grillo characters as fair game to get killed, and even without much backstory for any of them it's easy to see that they're all from different walks of life, allowing for easier audience sympathy than the first film had ("oh no, not this rich family!"). The built-in possibility for endless sequels makes it easier to forgive all of the questions an audience might have, as you can just assume they'll answer it in the next one, and with the one attempt to tie it into the first film proving to be a dud (a character from the first shows up, and not a single person in the audience reacted), not to mention a roughly equal box office take (maybe even a bit higher) I think it's safe to assume they'll embrace the anthology aspect of it going forward.* This is great; as much as I love mythologies, following this or that person every time would box things in and keep us from getting the full spectrum of the event. What happens in rural areas? Or in prisons? I'd be bored watching Lena Headey's character or any of the survivors here heading to one of those places and giving a "I can't believe this is happening to me again!" thing.
I'd also be curious to see events from a Purger's POV, in the vein of Maniac or films like that. I know Grillo's character is one, but he's got a specific target and seemingly no desire to just randomly kill folks along the way just for target practice or something. With the budgets so low on these things and the concept itself seemingly drawing in crowds (certainly wasn't star power or even much goodwill toward the first film), they can take those kind of risks and probably still earn a mint. It's basically what the Halloween series was supposed to be, but, you know, financially successful**. Hell they can even do a prequel and show the first Purge (this is the 6th, I think) - did everyone just jump right in, or were they a bit sheepish? "Can I REALLY just kill that guy and not go to jail?"
Let's put it this way - I ended up seeing the movie twice today (once at the regular AMC, and then again when we went to a drive-in (!) and my wife wanted to stay after Lucy for the free 2nd feature, which was this) and I wasn't bored the second time. Sure, I didn't have some of the above issues after my first viewing, only noticing on the revisit, but if it more or less held my attention 9 hours after seeing it for the first time, I have to assume they're on the right track. They probably can't ever answer all of our questions (like the rules in Gremlins, they have to get things underway before we start asking the equivalent of "Well when is it NOT after midnight?"), but as long as they keep diving into what being in a Purge is actually like instead of using it as an excuse for a traditional genre film (like the first film), I'll keep coming back.
What say you?
*Until Purge Five: All In, where the characters from all previous entries join forces for a heist. Which would be legal.
**Halloween 4 "saved" the franchise, but did you know it actually made less money than the "bomb" 3rd film? Pretty funny.