The Purge 2: The Repurgening (2014)
Dir. and written by James DeMonaco
Starring Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Michael K. Williams
Ah, the eternal enigma of the Purge movies: are they the dumbest smart movies ever made, or the smartest dumb movies ever made? I mean, they’re definitely dumb, there’s no question about that. But are they a little smart, too? I mean, there’s more flag imagery here than a Michael Bay movie, surely they think they’re making some sort of trenchant observation about American society. But of course the idea that the annual “Purge” --one 12-hour period during which all crime is legal-- has any reasonable analog in the real world is so asinine you’re tempted to wonder if you missed the point.
And maybe I sort of did. PURGE 2 changes things up a little bit, it abandons the wealthy suburban home-invasion premise of the first movie and instead turns its attention to the poorer people in the city, struggling to survive the night without the ample defenses of the affluent. Our protagonists gradually meet up and find themselves in the unenviable position of having to travel through the city on the most dangerous night of the year. I like that, it turns the premise into more of a journey, lets us see a little more craziness out there in this world. But the more interesting change is that we learn a little bit more about how the Purge is actually supposed to work. Someone must have mentioned to director DeMonaco (writer of JACK? Really?) that it makes no sense that crime would be eradicated because people can get it all out one night a year, so this time we find that the actual purpose of Purge Night is more sinister: the government wants the poor to kill each other off, driving down poverty and making it easier to feed the survivors. In fact, the government is fronting roving death squads to make sure that this plan is successful, since the latent desire to kill isn’t as common among average citizens as the founders of the system might have suspected (or, maybe the folks who would be up for it are mostly dead by this point, the sixth year since the new Purge system has been in place). To quote Rowdy Roddy Piper, “figures it'd be something like this.”
Like a number of films this year (NIGHTCRAWLER, FOXCATCHER, THE RETRIEVAL, SNOWPIERCER), this just might be an indictment of the dehumanizing nature of modern hypercapitalism, a frustrated howl against a system which shouts its promise of freedom while delivering a de facto feudalism which no one seems willing to call out as such. The new context in this sequel makes the idea seem like less of specific allegory and more of an exploration of a system which nakedly rigs the game against a lot of people and then demands that they thank them for it. And a lot of people do. Even in a society as manifestly dystopian as the one in THE PURGE, it seems like most of the people accept the system and happily defend it as a matter of patriotic pride. Even these poorer people, who one would think would have a much better idea of just how obviously the system is set up to screw them, are deeply divided. The only unified people are the ones at the top, who have managed to push a heartless and vicious system which benefits them and punishes everyone else on a whole society, totally unopposed.
Well, virtually unopposed, anyway. Here and there, we do find some rumblings of dissent in the form of Michael K. Williams, a revolutionary dude in a bitchin’ black turtleneck and beret who appears from time to time on the TV, broadcasting his pirate message about rising up. Of course, no one takes him very seriously, and a lot of the people most endangered by the system seem to actually think he’s the bigger threat. Ain’t it always the way, man.
Fortunately, THE REPURGENING isn’t a movie about ideas, it’s a movie about action. And so appropriately, our chief protagonist is a man of action, in this case Frank Grillo (CAPTAIN AMERICA 2: WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT SOLDIER, THE GREY) as a mysterious badass out to do some repurgening of his own, who ends up having to unexpectedly protect a gaggle of whiny civilians that get stuck outside and need some help if they’re gonna survive the night. It’s like how Qui-Gon can’t go any god damn place without picking up some new straggler or another. Sometimes you just gotta say no to sidekicks. It took Seagal two UNDER SIEGE movies and a collaboration with Ja Rule to learn this important lesson, though, so I guess we can cut Grillo some slack.
In all honesty, PURGE 2 is really more of an action/thriller than it is a horror movie, but it has its moments. Like the masked purgers in part 1, the killers here tend to favor rather more elaborate getups than one would think would be strictly necessary (or practical) in order to give their purging a more theatrical flair. We also get to see a couple glimpses of the freakier side of things; rich families who buy old people to kill in the comfort of their own home, some financial douchebag crucified downtown, Mad Max weirdos in dune buggies using flamethrowers on homeless people. But honestly the people of Purgeworld aren’t super creative about this whole Purge thing. I mean I guess the flamethrowers and dune buggies are a nice touch, but it’s still just murder, I don’t think there’s a separate law against firing incendiary weapons off all-terrain vehicles or something. We never see any cannibalism, which if you ask me would be way up there. No bars serving alcohol to minors, which seems like it would be a no-brainer, especially on Purge night when you really need to take the edge off. Nobody broadcasting major league baseball with only implied oral consent instead of express written consent.* You also inexplicably don’t see anyone stealing anything, which one would think would be one of the most popular Purge activities. Although I guess even though the theft would be legal, it might not be legal to own it the next day. I mean, just ‘cause you steal someone’s house, it doesn’t put the mortgage in your name or anything. Could I do my taxes on Purge day, intentionally underpay, and then there’d be nothing they could do about it? You know I’m starting to wonder again if this whole Purge thing really makes sense.
Anyway obviously a lot to think about. Or maybe not, I dunno. But this is a pretty fun movie, and a nice escalation for this simple, kinda maybe not-the-smartest premise. It takes its characters and its world seriously, and creates plenty of good setpieces to run them through the gauntlet. What more could you want? At the very least, it’ll tide you over while we wait for part III: ON THE VERGE OF PURGE.
*Nobody experiencing the simple joys of a monkey knife fight.
|Mom and daughter have several conversations about their survival.|