This summer, two Grantlanders will gather to discuss the weekend’s mega-franchise, counterprogramming comedy, or teen weepie to consider truth, spoilers (!), and the Hollywood way. This week: Emily Yoshida and Rembert Browne sharpen their machetes for The Purge: Anarchy, the bigger, bloodier sequel to last year’s speculative horror sleeper The Purge.
Emily Yoshida: There was definitely a moment, maybe about a third of the way through The Purge 2: The Repurgening, when I was afraid I was out. Those first few kills in a Purge movie (I say “a Purge movie” as if there are more than two of them, but we should all be well aware that there will be another one of these made every year for at least the next 10 years) are really shocking, especially for a lightweight like me who doesn’t do much horror. And also because like anyone else in the theater this weekend, I am a human being living on planet Earth at the end of a particularly dark week. Much of the atmospheric violence is seen via surveillance cameras, silent and blurry enough to accurately mimic the modes by which nonfictitious violence makes its way to our eyeballs. The Purge draws its anxiety from the idea that most otherwise rational and balanced people in our neighborhoods and communities are one law away from going on a deadly rampage, and as a sci-fi premise that’s about as fantastical as a story about wearable tech obliterating our personal lives and common sense. Seeing faceless redshirts getting mowed down and beaten in the streets is far more disturbing than seeing Matt Saracen get [SPOILER]ed.
So I was nervous that this second outing would skew the delicate balance of schlocky B-movie satire and “too soon” territory. I didn’t want to watch a movie that pretended to denounce the culture of American violence and conservatism while actively marketing it at the same time. Sure, tons of grindhouse horror is based on that kind of anarchic hypocrisy, but I didn’t want to feel like I was casting some kind of vote with my movie ticket. And by the end, not only did I not feel that way, I was actually really excited about what is shaping up to be kind of a punk phase for genre movies.
Rem, all I know is that I got a text reading “Holy shit the purge” after you saw it, and this movie gets pretty ankle deep in a lot of shit, so that could have meant anything. Talk to me.
Rembert Browne: Holy shit, The Purge.
I wasn’t ready for this. In my head, I was getting emotionally prepared to go see a horror film by myself, with only a large Icee and larger popcorn as my protectors. But this is not a horror film. Not even close. It’s a disaster thriller that made me suspicious of everyone I saw in a group of three or more on the street post-walking-out-of–The Purge, even if it was three babies in a tri-scooter.
Despite my best efforts to fully critique the movie, all I could keep thinking about was, What would I do on Purge night? Or the even more ghastly variation, What would happen to me on Purge night? Which is why the film is pretty genius. Because it forces you to put yourself in all of the available shoes presented.
The film’s second cousin, The Hunger Games, which bears more similarities once you get thrown into the stadium, still has a level of chance involved. The chance of not having to play. Because, before everything else, you can at least not be picked. There’s no out of The Purge. It’s all in. Everyone’s forcibly invited.
And just like that, you begin falling down the hole of your most likely path come Purge night.
Am I a dead man in the first five minutes?
What if, God forbid, I get a letter in the mail saying I’m invited to the rich-people Purge party? Do I say yes because it’s safer? Or do I say no because it’s arguably even worse than roaming the streets and killing innocents?
Or do I board up and hope for the best? Or fight back? Or do I get drunk and shoot someone in my living room that I’d finally grown tired of for forgetting to use a coaster? Or do I just roll around with my crew and cause a little trouble?
It’s all messed up. Because they’re all really bad options. It’s like the old saying “Ride or die.” When you think about it, both are so not ideal, but it’s not “Ride or die or opt out.”
The only semicasual thought I had in the entire film was what is probably the secret gem of Purge night: a great opportunity to just drive around in your new car. Open road for miles. Wind in hair. Just flourishing. What a delight.
That is, until you run out of gas. And then you have to run. And then someone takes a machete to your back. And then you’re dead. Because overcrowding. Or something.
Yoshida: The genius of the Purge franchise is that all of those scenarios you listed are basically sequels waiting to get made. I was taking an Uber ride to the Grantland anniversary party the other week and my driver was also very excited about The Purge: Anarchy, and made the good point that you don’t even have to change the rules of the Purge, the way the rules of the Hunger Games change in Catching Fire. All you need is to switch your perspective and you’ve got yourself a newly compelling movie. (You better believe I just cited an Uber driver.) Purge the First was about a rich suburban family (not quite rich enough to go all Most Dangerous Game on their homeless guy) who find themselves under attack by equally white and affluent marauders; Purge 2: The Second One is about a grab bag of far less protected folk, including one voluntary purger.
The original film, 99 percent of which (no pun intended) took place in a single house, had a kind of hot-boxed low-budget horror ingenuity going for it; it could easily be staged as an Off Broadway play. (NOTE: THIS IS A GREAT IDEA; PLEASE STEAL IT FROM ME, THE THEATER.) A lot of its dread came from what we didn’t see, the knowledge that the entire world is going even crazier outside that gated community. Now with a bigger budget, we’re able to see more of that crazy. We see school buses full of biker gangs speeding toward the city at nightfall, the aforementioned rich people Purge parties. What we are told is a free-for-all in the first film actually gets to be a free-for-all this time.
I laughed a lot in this movie, actually. I definitely laughed whenever anyone used the government-issue Purge-ism “release the beast” in a sentence, like they were talking about a new flavor of Doritos Jacked or something. But mostly I laughed at how much joy director James DeMonaco clearly took in making every rich person a horrifying monster, and then tearing those monsters apart with machine guns. In a way this movie felt like a spiritual descendant of They Live, one of my favorite downtown L.A. antiestablishment dystopias.
Did you see the first Purge? What do you think is the “message” of the Purge movies? Is it dumb or great or besides the point?
Browne: I did not see Purge Original: The First. It must have come and gone one of those afternoons when Gmail went down. But it’s not really a sequel, so it doesn’t seem to matter. It’s not a sequel in the way that birthdays aren’t sequels. It’s just The Purge’s second birthday.
But on to more important things, like the “message.” So much of my focus and emotional investment was on the crew of five staying alive that I’d often ignore the messages that were being heavy-handedly thrown our way. Like the role of government. And surveillance. And targeting the poor. And how brown people seem to be the predominant group of voluntary purgers, as if white people (save, of course, our hero) are incapable of street savagery. It’s not that it didn’t register, it’s more a defense mechanism of not getting riled up about the wrong stuff.
Using this film to get angry about class warfare and race relations is like responding to an egg avatar on Twitter with three followers. You’ve just got to save that rage for a bigger fish. Like actual class warfare that exists in the still-very-violent-and-systematically-unfair real, Purge-less world.
WITH. THAT. SAID.
I admittedly geeked when Michael K. Williams rolled into rich-boy Purge stadium with guns and smoke bombs and the new-new-new-new-new-new-new Black Panther Party and just lit all the rich up (who seemed to be 99 percent white aristocracy, except for that one black lady). I was playing in my bathtub of popcorn like it was a ball pit the entire time. I never wanted him to stop talking. I wanted more guns. I wanted this Robin Hood–like move to never stop. The revenge became the highest form of entertainment.
There’s this Chappelle skit — as there often is — in which he (as one of the Time Haters) shoots a slave master. And then Chappelle keeps rewinding the tape of the slave master getting shot for the crowd. And then he says: “Apparently shooting a slave master is only funny to me and Neil. If I could, I would do it every episode.”
That’s exactly how I felt after Omar came through. Could watch that final 30 minutes on loop. Not necessarily proud of that, but there’s no need to pretend like the smile on my face during that scene wasn’t present.
Browne: Oh, one other thought — with about 20 minutes left in the movie, I was sure that Ed Harris was going to pop out. Because can you even call something a surveillance-based social experiment if Ed Harris isn’t in it? (Yes, if you look hard enough, that’s not Donald Sutherland in the Hunger Games films — it’s Ed Harris.)
OK, carry on Yoshida.
Yoshida: See, I felt like, aside from the Purge stadium and the private grandpa-killing party, the movie wasn’t ultimately condemning the voluntary purgers (though it offers a compelling argument not to trust people who buy refurbished lofts in downtown L.A.). Like Battle Royale, Anarchy’s position seems to be that even the people out there tearing each other apart are still victims, just victims of the system, maaan. It doesn’t offer any cogent solutions to its real-life corollaries, other than [SPOILER] maybe don’t revenge-murder the guy who killed your kid, it won’t cleanse your soul, [/SPOILER] but I don’t think anyone thinks that’s its responsibility.
This movie is the heaviest of handed, but I wouldn’t really want it any other way. I didn’t show up for an applicable discussion of social injustice, just something violent and cathartic that ultimately punches up the entire time, not down. We kind of know that Michael K. Williams is going to show up eventually and revenge the fuck out, and we’re meant to be giddily awaiting that moment up until the point it happens. Even before his crew shows up, Frank Grillo fired some statement shots at the spectator box and my theater erupted in applause. Snowpiercer is pretty similar in its rebellious spirit and broadness of its execution. (Plus it has Ed Harris at the end. Phew.)
A gory action-sci-fi movie with an antiviolence message is bound to be a little bit of a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, but still leads to some entertaining sequences. That scene in Eva’s (Carmen Ejogo) coworker’s apartment had me nervous-giggling like crazy, eyes darting across the screen, waiting for the first sign of impending mayhem. It definitely reminded me of the lighthouse scene in Battle Royale, one of my single favorite film scenes maybe ever, in which our protagonists drag their battered bodies to what is supposedly a safe house full of pacifists but quickly turns into a bloodbath over a more or less petty interpersonal dispute. Both scenes end with the survivors basically saying, “You dummies, you done fucked up.” That’s kind of the tone that surrounds most of the violence in The Purge.
Browne: That scene in Eva’s coworker’s house is pretty much how all my birthdays end up.
So, I feel like we’ve hit many a corner of this movie but glossed over something huge:
I know you mentioned his name, but SARACEN BACK. It’s almost as if the casting call was: “Looking for sensitive young man with a ton of heart but noticeably argumentative, huge plus if raised by grandmother and a high school quarterback.”
I was just so happy to see him. And I think he did a great job. More roles for Saracen.
Finally, as someone who lacks the talent to predict what will happen in a film (had no idea Omar was gonna come back at the end, even though OMAR COMIN’), I was sure the movie would end with the Purge being discontinued. But it didn’t. The last thing we see is a countdown until the next Purge.
How many of these things do you think they have in them? Rocky numbers, Land Before Time numbers? I’d love to see the franchise end with some grace, but I have this sinking feeling that we just saw the best one. This was the Step Up 2: The Streets of purging.
Yoshida: I mean, I think we get approximately 1 million more of these. And while I would not be surprised if your Purge Up 2: The Streets comparison ends up being accurate, I don’t see that as a bad thing necessarily; I still see every Step Up movie, even if I know it’s nearly impossible to beat the second one. I like to watch people dance and overcome odds, and I know a Step Up movie will deliver on that premise, albeit with varying degrees of success. I can see myself having a similar relationship with the Purge movies, except with flamethrowers instead of dancing. It’s not a serialized story, so there’s nothing to burn out except the basic premise, and if they play their cards right, that premise has serious legs.
If you’re asking for my Purge 3 pitch, and I’m pretty sure you are, here it is: A bunch of wealthy liberal pacifists plan to spend Purge night at a luxurious, isolated resort on a private island. But then someone finds some deadly poison in the kitchen and everyone gets paranoid and runs off to the forest to hide and forage and defend themselves independently. Then maybe the government air-drops a bag of machetes. I think it should be called: The Purge 3: Survivor: Catalina.
It needs some work, but honestly not that much. Anyway, I took that countdown at the end literally; Anarchy made back three times its budget this weekend, so I fully expect another Purge in 362 days. See you there; can’t wait. May the Purge be ever in your favor (spoiler alert: it never is).