Review: ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ Has a Lot of Ideas, But None of Them Amount to Much

The Purge: AnarchyUniversal Pictures via Everett Collection

The Purge: Anarchy has more ideas than you might expect. But it also has more ideas than it knows what to do with.

Somewhere in the cobbled mess of the second Purge movie to get the green light, there are discussions about class warfare and the oppression of the impoverished. There is even a somewhat earnest attempt to access the psychology of a killer — to tap into what might make an ordinary joe stand up and purge his heart out once a year. There are dissections of the morality behind purging. Is it okay if it’s for revenge? Is it okay if it’s to level the playing field? Is it okay if we’re turning the hounds back on those who released them? Is it ever okay? Lots of questions at bay in The Purge. Lots of ideas.

Unfortunately, none of them are given the attention that they need to blossom into anything truly interesting. Instead, that attention goes (unsurprisingly) to the brutality and tension that spans the length of the movie. As three sets of Purge Night victims (a mother and daughter whose financial distresses are obstinately spelled out at the forefront of the story, an uppity young married couple on the brink of separation, and a well-armed man of mysterious intentions) band together in a feat of survival, we witness efforts so grim and vile that they’re inclined to turn a sane viewer off of violent movies for the foreseeable future.

The Purge: AnarchyUniversal Pictures via Everett Collection

But we’re not quite sure if that’s what The Purge: Anarchy wants, opting ultimately for the cathartic joys of the shoot-’em-up climax on which any number of nihilistic blockbusters have relied. In the wake of this incongruity — tapping into the disparate messages of striking back against the tyrannical rich, but also finding compassion and rejecting the urge to purge — we have no idea what The Purge wants us to take away. And that leaves us assuming that it doesn’t really want us to take away anything.

So, we’re left with the bare bones: 100 minutes of upsetting violence, paper-thin characters, grotesque cinematography, and laughable dialogue. If we can’t hang our hats on the occasional interesting point it tries to bring up, we don’t have a great deal remaining.