Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer Cinema: The Purge: Anarchy

Are you much of a horror film fan?  I'm not.  Everybody always seems so dumb and going places they shouldn't be or the horror is a big cop out because it's just people scaring themselves in the dark.  So I was aware of The Purge's existence, it's one of those low budget horror movies from factory Blum House that starred Ethan Hawke and Lena Headley in a home invasion horror story set in a future where all crime is legal for 12 hours to help keep society balanced.  The scenario sounded contrite to me and these $3 million cheapies with former low watt movie stars just seemed like filler that turned a profit without actually being entertaining.  I knew a sequel was being produced and was intrigued by the casting of the up and coming Frank Grillo, an actor that's caught my attention since his small role in Mel Gibson's Edge of Darkness then full on in Warrior and The Grey as an MMA coach and roughneck oil worker asshole.  Quick bits in End of Watch and Zero Dark Thirty seemed to signify he was getting seen by the right people then a role as a villain in this years smash Captain America: The Winter Soldier seemed to possibly foretell a future of playing henchmen.

With no interest in seeing The Purge: Anarchy, I caught a blurb review about someone likening it to a John Carpenter infused action movie from the 80's.  That immediately piqued my interest because if there's one thing Hollywood needs, it's more lost John Carpenter movies.  I'm not talking remakes of Halloween, The Fog or Assault On Precinct 13 (which wasn't bad), I'm talking about Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror which plays like a lost Carpenter flick with it's mix of action, horror, humor and gruesome f/x set to a killer synth score.  That said, The Purge: Anarchy is totally a riff on Assault On Precinct 13 and They Live mixed with Van Damme's Hard Target or basically a surprisingly satisfying action movie disguised as a horror flick in the marketing materials.  Incidentally, writer/director James DeMonaco wrote the 2005 remake of Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13.  Set in a future where new government has installed the annual Purge, a 12 hour window where all crime like murder, looting and rape are legal.  It's a little far fetched a concept to get around at first as our story centers on some peeps who get stuck outside after it starts.  If you knew this was coming, wouldn't you just take a day off and fortify your house?  But once you get past that, there's unrelated characters coming together, a rebellion questioning the underlying intentions of the Purge, rich VS poor societal lines and a possible military style government conspiracy at play, all themes very familiar to Carpenter fans.

We meet our core characters a couple hours before The Purge starts: there's hard working waitress and her daughter Eva and Cali (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul) then struggling couple Shane and Liz (Zac Gilford from The Last Stand and Kiele Sanchez), then you have heavily armed and despondent looking Frank Grillo driving around in his souped up crime mobile.  I'm not even sure if they say his name in the flick but I think it's Sergeant Leo.  The 3 unrelated parties all run into each other and stick together to survive while uncovering much more at play than just thugs going on a spree.  While watching the film, I couldn't help but think that Grillo would make a pitch perfect The Punisher on the new Daredevil series on Netflix or anywhere.   He's spot on here as a man on the revenge trail, armed to the teeth, muscular yet lithe with dark features and a commanding presence that gives a sense of both safety and fright.  Make no mistake, Anarchy is an action flick with only a handful of scares, one of them that made me jump in my seat.  It's mostly gunplay with a few bursts of foot chases and fisticuffs.  I thought it was kind of a missed opportunity that we see Grillo's character driving around the city in his souped up, Mad Max style battle car but there's no chase scene that destroys it.  Guess they only had the one.  It's an interesting change of pace since part one was a home invasion flick, this one is action oriented so the next could be a disaster movie with an earthquake occurring during the ritual to change things up or take on the form of any genre.

After opening up #2 this weekend with nearly $30 million in box office receipts on a $9 million dollar budget, we can be sure to see more Purge flicks in the near future.  Especially after Universal and producer Jason Blum just signed a 10-year first look deal.  Now somebody make a flick as wild, zany, quotable and downright wonderful as Big Trouble In Little China or The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.

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