Reviewing movies while keeping any kind of consistency in my rating system can be challenging. For example, I gave Elvira: Mistress of the Dark a B+, while Hayao Miyazaki's animated masterpiece The Wind Rises only got a B. Does that mean that Elvirais the better film? Not necessarily. A lot of things factor into this (mostly arbitrary) system, and one of the things that I take into account is how well a movie succeeds at its intended goal. Or, simply, how much I enjoy watching them.
Take last year's The Purge (my review: http://geeksout.org/blogs/ranerdin/movie-review-purge) . This is a film that I didn't particularly care for in any context, and was frustrated that its largely undeserved box office success overshadowed the similar but much better film You're Next. I thought The Purge failed at every single thing it tried to do, and gave it a C- despite it being a well conceived and technically well made horror movie.
Enter the inevitable rushed sequel. The Purge: Anarchy spent one year on its journey from conception to release, and this is fairly obvious while watching it. It's a lazier, sillier, and stupider movie in every way, the very definition of the way that studio greed exploits horror fans and shamelessly beats us over the head with frivolous mediocrity -- and yet I'm giving it a higher rating than its predecessor. Why?
Sometimes it helps to think of movies as people - and not just for those socially maladjusted individuals like myself that understand movies more than they understand people. Think about two reasonably attractive guys you might meet in a bar. They look similar, they sound similar, they act similar. In 2014, they're probably both wearing their hair with a similar sharp side-part, and both probably tried to grow a non-threatening amount of facial hair. Both of them are brainless morons. One of them may have read a couple of Facebook social justice argument threads and now thinks he's an authority on every topic, and has many, many terrible opinions he enjoys parroting back to you, pretending to be smarter than he actually is. The second guy wants to do shots with you and then suck your dick.
The first guy is The Purge. The second guy is The Purge: Anarchy. Depending on which kind of guy you prefer, that will likely align with which of the two films you prefer. For me, I'd definitely have more fun with the second.
The Purge was disappointing on many levels, but one of the reasons I was so frustrated by it was because it kept seeming as if it was coming close to trying to make some sort of valid point or statement about class and race inequality in the United States, but never quite got there. Its sequel makes no such claim, and instead gives us 103 minutes of explosions, machine guns, flamethrowers, car chases, and all out mayhem in downtown LA.
Don't bother comparing it to Escape from New York --hell, don't even compare it to Escape from L.A. -- besides being an insult to John Carpenter, the similarities that some critics have tried to discuss simply aren't there. Instead, compare it to other numbered horror sequels, of the Saw V or Friday the 13th part 2897 kind, and against those it actually holds up somewhat favorably.
In her hilarious review, Mallory Ortberg throws a lot of well meaning snark at this film better than I could (http://the-toast.net/2014/07/21/told-purge-ii-anarchy-going-better-purge...) . I'd advise you to click that after reading this. In the meantime, let's try to find some merit here.
To quote Stephen King (because I rarely go more than two paragraphs without doing so): "I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose." This should be the fundamental starting point of all horror, yet nearly all filmmakers working within the genre seem to overlook its importance. If we don't give a shit, at least a little, about the people being killed, why should we bother watching? Part of the problem in The Purge was that I wasn't really able to make myself care about a bunch of rich white people getting ripped to pieces without part of me thinking that they deserved it. The Purge: Anarchy offers us multiple point of view characters early on and gives us a chance to experience this world from outside of the suburbs, and this works to its credit. Although mostly still filled with boring stock characters, I actually really enjoyed the main family. Eva and Cali Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul) are a surprisingly believable mother and daughter, and I wish they were given a better film in which to showcase this. I cared about whether they lived or died, and that's already more than the first movie managed to accomplish.
Frank Grillo plays police sergeant Leo Barnes, a character that can only exist in an action movie . My estrogen levels tend to skyrocket in direct correlation to both my blood alcohol level and my suspension of disbelief. Nothing about the existence of this character makes any sense, and it doesn't matter. You're wearing a trench coat. You have guns and great hair. Save me, take me, do with me what thou wilt.
So we sit and wait (not very long, mercifully) for these people to cross paths and find danger and run from it. We get a larger sampling of Purgers this time, from fully armed over the top video game weaponry to lone guys with knives, who somehow manage to always convey a greater sense of menace than the dude with the machine gun in films like this. Part of the problem with over-arming your villains is that you then have no choice but to give them Stormtrooper shooting accuracy issues, otherwise your movie will end pretty quickly. Guy-with-knife tends to have much better aim.
Still, at one point we see a flaming bus speed by in the background, and that helps quiet the mind.
Director James DeMonaco is unobtrusive and stays out of the way for the most part, doing nothing particularly good, bad, or imaginative and letting the film get by on the strength of its concept. Which, as ridiculous as the whole thing may be, is interesting enough to wring several more sequels from before people lose interest.
The plot holes are as numerous as the explosions, and roughly as obvious. Who cares.
The whole thing is good harmless fun, and ends right as its about to overstay it's welcome. The anarchist in me enjoys films like this and what they say about government, in their own obscured and muddled way, and it's somewhat satisfying to see these characters flee from one dangerous situation to another while stuff blows up around them. Hell, it's summer, and we had a couple of weeks between superhero movies, so it's good warm weather escapism. I'm actually surprised to find that I'm really looking forward to the next installment.
The Purge: Anarchy won't leave any sort of lingering impression or enrich anything other than the bank accounts of those who made it, but it was a fun way to pass an afternoon alone in the theater with a smuggled bottle of Johnnie Walker. I highly suggest doing the same.
Actually, come to think of it, maybe that's why I'm giving this such a high score. Rating: C+
ShrieksOut is a bi-weekly horror column for GeeksOut.org. If you are interested in having something featured on the site, email Robert Russin at firstname.lastname@example.org