Numerous marauding characters in the brutal horror sequel "The Purge: Anarchy" (Universal) wear masks. So too, in a sense, does the film itself.
Though it pretends to condemn violence, writer-director James DeMonaco's follow-up to his 2013 bloodbath "The Purge" is, in reality, little more than an exercise in barbarism.
Like its predecessor, this second go-round rests on the premise that, in a dystopian future America, an annual 12-hour suspension of all law enforcement is observed. This ritual supposedly allows the populace to vent its nastiest instincts, making for a radically lower crime rate during the rest of the year. It also serves to eliminate the weak and infirm among the citizenry.
Out to take advantage of this holiday from social order is brooding Leo (Frank Grillo), a vigilante with a tragic personal score to settle. But fundamentally moral Leo gets waylaid when he stops to rescue Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and Cali (Zoe Soul), a mother-and-daughter duo who are in the process of being kidnapped by bad guys when Leo chances on the scene.
Soon Leo is also shepherding Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), a bickering married couple whose car was sabotaged by a different gang of no-goodniks, leaving them stranded without shelter as the purge began.
Leo has a nifty bulletproof sports car into which they all pile. But, just as they're making their getaway, this flashy mode of transport is disabled by armor-piercing ammo.
What's a busy revenge-seeker on a tight schedule to do? Well, it seems that Eva has a pal who lives nearby. If Leo will guide his quartet of charges to the safety of this friend's dwelling, he can borrow her wheels.
Needless to say, the odyssey that follows is punctuated by a series of savage encounters. But simplistic social commentary -- the rich use the recurring occasion to prey on the impoverished -- and a perverse version of religion which is shown to favor the officially sanctioned mayhem make this a dubious offering even aside from all the splatter.
Believers misguided enough to patronize DeMonaco's movie will be treated to the sight of masked villains with the word God written across their foreheads as well as to scenes in which characters join hands and simperingly invoke blessings on those who established the peculiar institution around which the plot revolves.
Eva's buddy turns out to be Catholic, at least to judge by the religious paraphernalia adorning her house. But that doesn't mean that morality prevails under her roof any more than it flourishes elsewhere in this sadistic fantasy.
The film contains excessive gory violence, a negative portrayal of faith and prayer, brief partial nudity, a few uses of profanity and much rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.