As an exercise in expanding one’s horizons and challenging one’s preconceived notions, we have begun to see movies that we definitely would not normally see due to our own prejudices, valid or not. It must be noted that we go into these movies with the sincere hope that we will be proven wrong. This section is entitled “Movies I Don’t Want to Watch.”
This review contains a small spoiler.
Due to the proximity of my birthday to Halloween, the end of October was naturally my favorite time of year as a kid. There was so much excitement built around those last several days of the month and I relished in the costumes, candy, and particularly the scary stories. Are You Afraid of the Dark? was my favorite TV show; after I devoured all of RL Stein’s Goosebumps I transitioned into its slightly older version, Fear Street; and I knew the Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark by heart.
Somehow, my penchant for things that go bump in the night never led into a passion for horror movies. Perhaps I was too young to handle the gratuitous bloodshed of most, or perhaps I was too terrified to watch another one when my uncle showed my brother and I The Exorcist on one Easter holiday evening when I was thirteen. (Still haven’t watched it again. Maybe one day. Probs not though.) As I got older I became less and less interested in horror movies when I realized that – sorry, guys – most of them suck. Too often do they contain stock characters, predictable jump scares and very little story development. The horror movie industry is, on the whole, a crap factory, regularly shitting out forgettable villains and screaming starlets that the audience will flush away with the rest of the shit that came before it. It is for these reasons I did not want to see The Purge: Anarchy. That and I also have a moral objection to sequels. But that’s a story for a different time, children.
(In the effort of full disclosure, I must mention that I did not see the first Purge movie. Though, judging by its wiki page, the original and its sequel are not at all similar. Proceed on with full knowledge of any ignorance I may have.)
The Purge: Anarchy is set in an almost-dystopian 2023, where within the last ten years a new government has taken over, and the United States of America has given way to the New Founding Fathers of America, or NFFA. This new government allows for any and all crime to be committed for one twelve hour period a year as a way to decrease crime altogether. As citizens purge themselves of their bad thoughts through action, they’re less likely to do it the rest of the year. Now, say what I may about horror movies, I am a fan of dystopia. When done well, dystopian stories are enjoyable because they make subversive socio-political statements about the world we currently live in within the world of the story. “Look where we are; this is what will happen if nothing changes.” For this reason, dystopian books and movies tend to take place far enough into the future that societies and governments have the time needed for things to devolve. The fun of dystopia is an established government with abiding, albeit depraved and suffering, citizens, and the element of time allows for that to happen.
The Purge: Anarchy takes place nine years in the future. NINE. There is no possible way that nine years is enough time for the general populace of the United States to accept (and apparently elect) a new government that endorses any kind of crime during one twelve-hour period a year. This time frame, and thus the overall premise, is implausible at best.
With that as a jumping off point, we get precious little information on what the NFFA actually is. This is a faceless government, whose only motive is to bring down the poverty and unemployment levels. Aaand that’s all, folks. Another aspect of the deliciousness of dystopia is seeing the government and at times understanding their motives on a dark, twisted level. We do not meet a head of government in The Purge: Anarchy; we do not witness their propaganda. And yet we are expected to believe that people just buy this? We can’t believe it, because we’re also not given a glimpse into the alternative to the Purge, the other 364 and a half days. The filmmakers here tell us that it works, but that concept is the same as when your parents told you the iron was hot. You didn’t believe them until you burned your finger on it. The world-building of this movie is so lazy that anything built upon it cannot be of any substance, because the foundation is too weak.
So here we are, following a quintet of good guys who find themselves out in the open on Purge night. Horror movies are full of yell-at-the-screen-in-frustration moments, aren’t they? DON’T OPEN THAT DOOR. NO, THIS IS NOT A TIME FOR A SHOWER! WHY ARE YOU SPLITTING UP?! Of course this film needs to exhibit some of these qualities. At least in other horror movies the characters don’t know what they’re getting into. But everyone knows the Purge is coming, it’s literally the same day every year. So, with even more gusto: WHY IN THE FUCK ARE YOU GOING GROCERY SHOPPING ON PURGE NIGHT? WHY ARE YOU DOING ANYTHING?! STAY THE FUCK HOME. To this end, it won’t surprise you that over half of the characters we follow are positively insufferable. I’m not rooting for them to survive. In fact, I hope they get murdered. Can’t wait, because watching these people talk at normal volume when any number of Purgers can be within earshot makes me want to purge them myself. The main bad ass and the mother (names are erroneous at this point) are the two characters I actually kind of liked. My only explanation for that is that they didn’t talk enough for me to hate them.
A subplot turned deus ex machina is an underground revolution that opposes everything the NFFA stands for, which, as we discussed, is laughably not much. The founder and members are simply “the poor,” and one must assume this is the “anarchy” in the title of the movie. Anarchy means a lack of obedience to an authority; insubordination. With me so far? The way this revolution displays their insubordination to the NFFA is to kill the rich people… on Purge night. SO they are not committing an act of anarchy at all. They are, in fact, doing EXACTLY what the government ALLOWS them to do. They are actually FOLLOWING the rules.
This is not anarchy. This is what the movie claims to be about and it is useless. Absolutely, entirely, utterly useless.
With such fundamental flaws, it is almost not even necessary to discuss how awful the dialogue is. Ready for The Purge: Anarchy drinking game? Take a shot every time someone says the pointless phrase, “You okay?” You’ll need to purge yourself halfway through.
And I know that murder is (I guess?) the most obvious crime to commit, but the movie shows us nothing else happening in this one night where these characters are allowed to do anything. Drugs, looting, arson, torture, any glimpse of anything else could have made a stronger build to the killing sprees. But alas, this is a movie with guns and bullets and blood and nothing else. How boring.
So I pretty much hate horror movies. But fear not, horror geeks of the world! The Purge: Anarchy, as it turns out, is not a horror movie! Sure, people are getting killed everywhere, but is there anything scary about it? Hardly. There is nothing about this movie that will scare you, there is nothing in its pretend dystopian world that will distress you about the future of our society. The filmmakers have taken a concept that out of context has the capacity to be thought-provoking and gives you literal class warfare, with no alternative for anything better. The only thing I was left thinking was, “It must be a bitch to clean up all those bodies.”