So goes the unofficial mantra of the Purge, a national holiday of sorts christened by our country's new founding fathers. Between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. every March 21-22, the rule of law is suspended. Crime, including murder, is allowed. It's a societal good, the founders say, and the stats back them up: Since the Purge was initiated, crime during the rest of the year is way down. Profits are up.
And so one night a year the rich raise their steel barriers and flip on their high-tech security systems. The poor board up their homes and apartments as best they can. And the purge-inclined go hunting.
Stay safe, they say. Sometimes it's not so easy.
This year, Eva heads home to her daughter and dad, planning on a sleepless night filled with the sounds of gunfire and screams outside their boarded-up windows. But when Eva's daughter, Cali, goes to see if her napping grandfather is ready for dinner, she finds the room empty except for a note. It says he was voluntarily going to be purged by a wealthy family—a $100,000 sacrifice, all the cash going to Eva and Cali. There's no way to know where he went, and so the two women mourn … until bullets start punching through their walls.
Across town, Shane and Liz stock up on groceries—bickering as they always do, wondering whether they should tell Liz's sister about their looming separation. Then, on the drive home, Shane loses control of the car. The power steering's gone out and the vehicle lurches to an ignoble stop. Shane peers under the car and sees that something's been cut. And then on the road they see the purgers, wearing masks and wielding machetes, roaring toward them like death itself.
Elsewhere, a nameless man checks his weapons. Puts on a bulletproof vest. Slips into his car and drives. Bedlam surrounds him—the stuff of bloody nightmares. This man wouldn't ordinarily be out tonight, but he has a score to settle. He ignores the blood and death all around. "Just drive," he says, like a mantra. "Just drive."
Thousands won't tonight, as the Purge does its dirty "cleansing" work. Wolves will slaughter sheep, the rich will buy the poor like so much meat. This is a night when Moloch reigns, and for 12 hours, nothing will sate his thirst.
The nameless man—called, eventually, Sergeant—is out and about with ill intentions. He wants to right a wrong he feels was done to his family. But en route he gets sidetracked: Seeing Eva and Cali dragged out of their apartment to be killed, he intervenes, gunning down their assailants and ushering the two women to the temporary safety of his car. There, he finds Shane and Liz hiding in the backseat. In the space of a few minutes, these five strangers have been thrown together, their very lives hinged to one another.
For the rest of the night, Sergeant serves as a sheepdog to these Purge Night sheep, guarding them from near omnipresent predators. He takes off his bulletproof vest and puts it on Cali. He gives them all guns. He risks his life for them repeatedly. And they, in turn, show him how much better and nobler it is to preserve life rather than take it. "Killing doesn't help anything," Cali tells him. "It doesn't heal anyone."
[Spoiler Warning] The message sinks in. The night is nearly done, and Sergeant is determined to retaliate against a drunk driver who killed his son. But Eva and Cali quite literally beg him to turn away from violence and, in the end, he does. He still barges into his would-be victim's house and nearly murders the guy, but at the last second spares him. Sergeant walks out of the house with a look of peace on his face. His act of mercy is quickly repaid.
There are other acts of grace and self-sacrifice that we see as well (all of them bound up in a knot of violence, of course).
The Purge is positioned as a quasi-religious holiday, with wealthy purgers bowing their heads in prayer before they kill. "Blessed be the Purge," they say, and they talk about how their murderous actions will "cleanse our souls." Some believe that the Purge is God's will and participation is a God-given right, even duty. One woman prowls the top of a building with a machine gun, telling the streets below that God communicates in floods and earthquakes, and that she is a "one-woman f---ing plague," deserving of a spot on His left hand.
Others question the sanctified status this macabre rampage has attained, calling it a "Godforsaken holiday." Carmelo, the leader of an anti-Purge guerilla faction, raves online that "we no longer worship at the altar of Christ, of Mohammed, of Yahweh. We worship at the altar of Smith & Wesson."
We see Christian images in an apartment building, including a crucifix on the wall and praying hands on the dinner table. In declaring the beginning of the Purge, an announcer says, "May God be with you all." Members of a gang haunting the streets on Purge Night incorporate religious iconography into their garb: One has a mask with the word "God" on its forehead, another's forehead is marked with a cross. Someone describes a weapon as being so smooth and accurate, "it's as if God handcrafted it Himself."
A man bursts into Eva and Cali's apartment and announces that he's come to have his way with them. When he gets close enough to Eva, he licks her face. A woman guns down her sister for sleeping with her husband. We see pictures of a sensually dressed woman making moves on a guy. Shane and Liz kiss.
The Purge: Anarchy is, as you can already tell from reading the supposedly nonviolent sections of this review, incredibly intense, often in ways that feels more like a war movie than a horror movie.
Dozens are gunned down—scads of them plugged full of bullets from machine gun fire. We see their bodies shake with the bullets' impact and fall, clothes pocked with blood. One man is set on fire with a flamethrower. Another is run over. We see a purger stabbing a corpse repeatedly with a knife. Another bloody corpse is strung up with chains. Someone is choked. A neck is broken. A long fall from a high building kills somebody.
People are thwacked with clubs and threatened with knives and machetes. We see Eva's father sit in a room draped in protective plastic as a wealthy, well-dressed family raise their blades in preparation to kill him. Sergeant threatens quite a few folks with his guns and knives. A man gets his foot caught in a trap. Men and women are dragged, hit, kicked, thrown against walls and pounded into the pavement. A woman, covered in blood, walks around in a daze. A flaming bus speeds down the street.
Crude or Profane Language
Nearly 40 f-words. More than 20 s-words. We hear quantities of "a--," "b--ch," "b--tard," "h---" and "p---." God's name is misused at least 10 times (once with "d--n"). Jesus' name is abused once.
Drug and Alcohol Content
A woman swallows pills with a swig of wine. She encourages others to drink up, saying liquor is a good way to get through the night. A sniper breaks open a bottle of beer as he prepares to gun down strangers in the street.
The Purge: Anarchy, just like its predecessor, The Purge, isn't a movie built on subtlety, and its socioeconomic subtext is pretty obvious. It's suggested here that the Purge was instituted to protect society from its poorest, least-productive elements in a mass, yearly kill-off. The rich either hide behind walls of steel or actively participate in black tie Purge parties, in which victims are rounded up and auctioned off for bloody termination. The one-percenters have, quite literally, the power of life and death over the rest of us. Thus, the franchise (which its creators clearly intend to keep alive for as long as people pay to see it) is about literal class warfare.
Seeing the corpse of a stock broker, bloodied and sporting a sign detailing his many sins, Shane muses, "Maybe David deserved it."
Hints like that—that some folks deserve to be purged—highlight the split nature of this frightening flick. It wants to stress to us how horrific the "holiday" is. But sometimes it seems to root for the tables to violently turn. Carmelo, the story's anti-Purge activist, certainly doesn't hesitate to slaughter his enemies when given a chance.
Even as some vehemently proclaim that killing never made anyone feel better, that message is undercut just moments later when a bad guy "gets his" and moviegoers cheer his bloody demise.