This weekend the dystopian horror sequel "The Purge: Anarchy" takes to the streets for another round of lawlessness. As it matches up against "Sex Tape," "Planes: Fire and Rescue" and the holdover "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" at the box office, "Anarchy" will be put to two tests: whether it can repeat the success of the original "Purge," a surprise hit for Universal Pictures last year, and whether it can give a jolt to the flagging horror genre.
Released just over a year ago, "The Purge" was shot on a shoestring $3 million budget by writer-director James DeMonaco and produced by horror specialist Jason Blum. It rode an intriguing premise — What if you could commit any crime one night a year, with no repercussions? — and a familiar, if not bankable star (Ethan Hawke) to a robust $34-million opening weekend, good for the No. 1 spot.
The film fared less well with critics, many of whom harped on it for copious violence and clumsy attempts at social commentary. And though it got off to a strong start at the box office, "The Purge" wasn't exactly a crowd-pleaser: The audience-polling firm CinemaScore assigned it a low grade of C.
Although horror movies often receive poor CinemaScores and aren't as susceptible to word of mouth as other genres, "The Purge" dropped a steep 75% in its second weekend, while playing in 55 more theaters.
"The Purge" grossed $64 million total in the U.S. and Canada — more than 21 times its budget — plus $24 million overseas. A sequel was all but inevitable.
With "Anarchy," DeMonaco is returning with a larger but still modest budget (about $9 million), a new cast led by Frank Grillo and a less claustrophobic setting.
DeMonaco recently acknowledged to Screen Crush that the first film angered people. Although "The Purge" was marketed with images of havoc in the streets, the action was mostly confined to a single house.
"I understood the frustration on the first one," DeMonaco said. "If I saw that movie, I'd be frustrated. Because you're promising this nationwide concept, but you're only giving me this." DeMonaco said he hopes the sequel will "entertain people more than we did the first one."
If "Anarchy" does connect with audiences, it could inject some life into the horror genre, which has been floundering lately.
Although 2013 was a solid year for horror movies at the box office, with films such as "The Conjuring," "Insidious: Chapter 2," "Mama" and "The Purge" all opening at No. 1 on their respective weekends, this year has yet to see a single horror movie reach the top spot.
"Anarchy" has a chance to break that streak, if it can overcome "Sex Tape" and "Dawn." All three films are projected to earn about $30 million this weekend.
In the end, the fate of "Anarchy" may depend on how eager moviegoers are to indulge in another night of mayhem.