Set in a dystopian future America, which has legalised murder for one night of the year, James DeMonaco’s home invasion thriller The Purge milked every drop of gut-wrenching tension from its fiendishly simple premise.
At the box office, which is Hollywood’s trusted barometer of success, the film took almost 30 times its modest three-million dollar budget.
For the inevitable sequel, written and directed once again by DeMonaco, the action moves forward 12 months onto the streets of Los Angeles, where the divide between rich and poor, hunter and hunted is even more pronounced.
The elderly and sick sell themselves to the upper class families as human sacrifices on Purge night in exchange for a paltry fee for their loved ones, and an underground anti-Purge movement has declared war on the New Founding Fathers of America.
It’s March 21, 2023, 4.34pm. The denizens of LA slowly make their way home, preparing to batten down the hatches.
Diner waitress Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo) fails to secure a pay rise to pay for drugs for her terminally ill father (John Beasley). She returns to her apartment crestfallen and forlornly prepares dinner for the old man and her daughter Cali (Zoe Soul).
Meanwhile, on the other side of the city, a grief-stricken father called Sergeant (Frank Grillo) prepares to slay the drunk driver responsible for killing his young son.
A siren sounds announcing the start of the Purge at 7pm and Sergeant takes to the streets in his armour-plated car, bound for the driver’s home with an arsenal of weapons in the boot. En route, he crosses paths with a stricken Eva and Cali, and a bickering couple, Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), whose car has broken down.
Against his better judgement, Sergeant allows these four terrified strangers to seek refuge in the car.
“He’s out here voluntarily,” loudly whispers one of the group. “That means he’s out here to do something nasty.”
Like its predecessor, The Purge: Anarchy trades in nail-biting suspense rather than gratuitous gore. The anticipation of a senseless kill – any time, any place – is more important than the actual dismemberment.
In the absence of obvious star names in the cast, DeMonaco relishes the luxury of being able to slice and dice his characters at will, heightening our sense of unease since there’s no guarantee any of them will make it to 7am unscathed.
Unfortunately, the underlying social commentary about the class and wealth divide is poorly developed and strains credibility on a wider canvas.
As an unabashed adrenaline rush, however, DeMonaco’s sequel comes close to replicating the nail-biting thrills and blood spills of the original.