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“The Purge: Anarchy” is one nasty piece of work. Not quite as nasty, however, as the picture that spawned it. That movie was “The Purge,” a sinkhole of savagery that became a surprise hit last year.

This year’s model provides an explicit sociopolitical underpinning for the barbarity that’s at the core of the “Purge’s” premise, which is a small improvement over its predecessor.

In a near future that looks exactly like the present (due, presumably, to the picture’s budgetary limitations), one night a year is designated for a U.S. government-sanctioned homicidal free-for-all in which every sort of crime, up to and including murder, can be committed without punishment. It’s a way to exorcise all manner of bad impulses from the citizenry in one fell swoop and, not incidentally, to trim the population.

If one can buy the concept that murderous rampages can be started and halted instantaneously — when the siren sounds, stop killing one another, people, and I mean right now! — then it’s possible to buy what “The Purge: Anarchy” is selling. Otherwise, Houston, we have a problem.

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This time around, five people — a whiny married couple (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez), a mother and a daughter (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul) and a heavily armed loner with a score to settle (Frank Grillo) — have the misfortune to find themselves out on the mean streets and are obliged to join forces to avoid being slaughtered by roving marauders.

As they run, hide and, in the case of the married couple, whimper for their lives, writer-director James DeMonaco (who also wrote and directed the original picture) reveals that the purge particularly targets the homeless and minorities. Turns out it’s class warfare that’s being waged out there, and the underclass is fighting back. A black revolutionary group under the command of a man named Carmelo (Michael K. Williams) exhorts the have-nots to rise up. The picture’s principals find themselves caught up in the battling.

Its social commentary gives “Anarchy” considerably more substance than one usually finds in horror movies and routine shoot-’em-ups. But its raging violence is such that it will only truly appeal to fans of hard-core mayhem.

Soren Andersen:

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