Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Purge: Anarchy - Review

In THE PURGE: ANARCHY, actor Frank Grillo plays The Punisher, the popular Marvel Comics vigilante. He may be credited in the end as playing "Sergeant" and sports a sweet pompadour but don't believe the hype. Writer-director James DeMonaco clearly wanted the protagonist to be Frank Castle: Sergeant has special forces training, lives in an empty apartment littered with heavy weaponry, fancies the clothing combo of a black trench coat and a bulletproof vest, pilots a battle-armored vehicle, and his vengeance is fueled by the death of a child. If DeMonaco wanted to make a test film for his version of the comic book character, all the while under the guise of being a continuation of his own baby franchise, then mission accomplished. Too bad that the nation as a whole have already struck out The Punisher after three failures on film, plus the sheer fact that Grillo is already too busy to play him, given a set role in the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Crossbones.

Now that I have let my fanboy flag fly high, let's get back to dishing on this bloody affair. I seem to be one of the very, very few who was pleased with the preceding picture THE PURGE, despite its existence as an immoral bait-and-switcher. It pissed off every viewer by taking its killer premise of an annual event where crime is legal for 12 hours, and letting it recede in the background, instead giving focus to a politically tame home invasion thriller. Still, I was able to locate some morsels to feast on and walk away partially satisfied. That is, when the movie decided to pay its gaffers and the electric bill, able to finally show us what the hell is going on in the frame. Since the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series is now at death's doors, Blumhouse Productions needed to keep the money and scares flowing by any means, hence why we have this arriving into theaters. Thankfully, the Founding Fathers have given us a nice gift for a change. THE PURGE: ANARCHY is a surprisingly good follow-up, a well-made horror-actionsploitation movie that routinely bounces between being entertaining, unnerving, and eye-rolling.

Sergeant's quest to purge, aka "to unleash the beast", is but one of three main stories in this sequel. The other players running around downtown L.A. include a waitress mother, her rebel daughter (in more ways than one), and a splitsville-heading white couple. Eventually, the five of them meet up at a crucial point and spend the rest of the running time trying to survive together. Despite all of the energy given to them, it is perfectly clear that DeMonaco only cares about Grillo and his story. The four mouth-breathers following his tracks are all utterly worthless, only present to keep repeating the same lines over and over again: "Purging is bad", "The Revolution is coming", "We need to tell your sister", etc. Further showcasing their ineffectiveness, the quartet are treated as jinxes for Sergeant; whenever the script needs to implement a new threat or heighten up the tension, one of them just so happens to do something like trip and fall or shriek at the sight of a rat. Even their prologue segments have them acting like dullards, like going to the grocery store two hours before the bell rings.

With this movie, DeMonaco was given a second chance to explore the idea of "The Purge" and the world that implements it. Spoiler: not much has been added or fixed. We are still stuck in Los Angeles and everyone spends the entire time-frame killing people. Why aren't other crimes being displayed? I'm not advocating to see something heinous on screen like sexual misdeeds, though one instance sadly pops up here, but there's more rules that can be broken than just plain murder. There could be a holed-up group of hackers draining bank accounts or a flock of car-jackers brave enough to steal some expensive vehicles. Of course, including these other crimes would lose emphasis on the franchise's strict anti-gun stance. There is an additional plotline where Michael K. Williams is a Malcolm X surrogate, orchestrating a guerrilla movement to take back the nation. It's intriguing but this inclusion leaves several questions left floating in the air, such as how come freedom of speech still exists in a land re-established by absolute tyrants?

I mock these elements of the movie chiefly because, other than being easy targets, they are the standard problems featured in a B-horror movie. As a viewer, I'm supposed to forget and forgive this nonsense and just relish in the blood and dread. For the most part, that's exactly what I did and was able to have fun. Though still questionable in the story department, DeMonaco is able to design a world full of disturbing material with the camera as his medium. There are many shots and scenes where horrifying things are introduced and then whisked out of sight, leaving the audience wondering yet shaken by the dark imagery. He even makes great use of jump scares, with one shocker at the end being a marvelous cruel joke. The sound editing and mixing are both expertly put together, often fleshing out the environments or informing us of dangers lurking right around the corner. Nathan Whitehead's score is tantalizing, a disconcerting march of industrial rock. The cinematography, however, is a mixed bag, once more being handled by Jacques Jouffret. The downtown exteriors are skillfully bathed in colorful lights, brighting up or highlighting the anxiety-ridden nocturnal violence. Unfortunately, Jouffret's faulty workmanship delivers an encore, as shaky-cam and scenes set in total blackness ruin some of the festivities. The latter problem plagues the third act, nearly ruining an important war scene.

THE PURGE: ANARCHY may be deliberately sickening for some to stomach and it does maintains its less-than-stellar story framework. But I wouldn't be true to myself if I didn't say that this sensually fulfilled my guilty pleasures. It's a scary, action-packed ride that I would like to keep going on till I barf twice. I must also reiterate that this movie wouldn't have been a fine product without Frank Grillo. A true blue late bloomer, the man here is an awesome ass-kicker with a soul. When not checking the corners or firing off some rounds, Grillo can easily show a range of emotions in a blink. He taps into some dangerous recesses of pain during the film's grueling moments, to the point where you might shed a lonely tear. An odd feeling to have in a movie full of Hollywood-made genocide.


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