It’s America of 2023 and crime is at all-time low because the government have implemented a law that for twelve hours on one particular day once a year, all crime - even murder - is legal. Most batten down the hatches, but some tool up and hit the streets.
In the midst of the chaos struggling waitress Ejogo and daughter Zoe Saul are saved from certain death by noble former soldier Grillo (doing his best Michael Biehn), roaming the streets for the one person he has a beef with. They are joined by a couple on the verge of a break up (Sanchez and Zach Gilford), who didn’t make it home before the killing klaxon sounded. Beset by government-funded killing squad and Warrior-esque masked biker gangs, the team attempt at traversing the city to safety.
This shouldn’t work. It’s a rushed follow up to last year’s surprisingly decent thriller/horror/sci-fi; it forgoes the steady Home Invasion formula that made the original so tight and claustrophobic; it’s a B-movie that’s content to be a B-movie that riffs on other movies; and it’s from Platinum Dunes, the studio where remakes go to yawn.
But writer-director James DeMonaco has delivered a more ambitious sequel that has ideas above its station. There’s a further exploration that people are essentially violent/bad-peaceful/good and brings the class war into the debate (some rich handsomely pay terminally ill poor to be executed in the comfort of their own mansions). There’s The Wire’s Michael K. Williams in full-on revolutionary prophet mode, whose band of followers use the night to take down the rich fat cats who have bungled pensions and bid Hostel-style on captured poor so to hunt them in Hunger Games-like enclosures (DeMonaco is unfortunately hampered by a lack of budget in an important sequence here). There’s even a nod to the Nazi liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto. There’s a lot going on, more than there should be.
It’s not all good, though. There’s an inexplicable lackadaisical approach to getting home before the carnage commences - it’s an hour to go and you’re buying bread? - and why would anyone take to the streets with a hatchet when others have a small arsenal? DeMonaco too fails to get across the geography of the city - how far they’ve come, how far to go, how hot the destination is likely to be, what kind of areas are best avoided to get there, etc.
A surprisingly decent sequel to a surprisingly decent original - maybe this franchise has legs.