Last year, The Purge excited me with its intriguing premise: What if all crime was legal for one night? It’s a shame that this interesting idea was letdown by the film’s lame execution, but that’s what made a sequel seem so promising. Instead of conforming to an average home invasion thriller like its predecessor, The Purge: Anarchy actually takes its characters outside the home and onto the street to show what really happens on Purge night. It’s exactly what detractors of the original film wanted to see and writer/director James DeMonaco deserves some praise for actually listening to his critics and taking this sequel into more interesting territory. Unfortunately, that’s probably the only praise that he’ll be receiving because The Purge: Anarchy is a downright unpleasant experience. It’s visually bland, the characters are unlikable and it lacks any of the excitement that would have been necessary to make this an entertaining B-movie.

The year is 2023 and America is in great shape. Unemployment is down, the economy is up and it’s all thanks to the annual Purge, when one night a year all crime is considered legal. Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) are a young couple who get stranded outside on Purge night when their car breaks down in the middle of a city. Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter Cali (Zoë Soul) also get stuck outside when their apartment is raided by a team of armed men. None of these four are prepared for the acts of violence that await them on the streets, but they receive protection from Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), a police sergeant whose only goal for the night is to exact revenge on one man who wronged him in the past.

With such a politically influenced premise, these films should be ripe with ideas, themes and commentaries regarding our country and government, but Demonaco seems more focused on thrills than ideas. There are themes present in the film, but they only scratch the surface of what should be a very thought provoking subject. There’s a scene where a character shoots off a gun and then proclaims that it’s her right as an American to do so. This is clearly meant to be a statement on gun control, but after this scene the subject never comes up again. It’s almost as if Demonaco thinks that simply mentioning these ideas without properly exploring them will be adequate enough. This poor handling of the thematic content could have been forgivable if the film had been an entertaining ride, but there’s hardly a single memorable moment throughout the film’s 103 minute runtime. Scenes are dimly lit and the hectic camerawork is edited together so sloppily that I often had to strain myself just to discern what I was supposed to be seeing.

The characters that the original Purge centered around may not have been very interesting, but at least they were sympathetic enough for the audience to root for their survival. This time around, the characters are beyond irritating and I wasn’t able to sympathize with any of them. Shane and Liz are a couple who seem to whine about something in nearly every scene and the arc that their relationship takes is obvious from their first few scenes. Eva and Cali aren’t quite as irksome, but they’re so uninteresting that I couldn’t even care about them when their lives are being threatened. Sergeant Barnes is the most interesting character of the bunch, but that’s not saying much; he’s got no personality and the only thing that fuels his character is the desire to hurt the man that hurt him.

There’s potential for a great film hidden somewhere inside The Purge: Anarchy, but Demonaco just can’t seem to bring it into fruition. It takes more than a great premise to complete a movie and this film and its predecessor are clear proof of that. If a third film is put into production, I’ll remain cautiously optimistic, but perhaps a new director will be necessary to finally make the film that this series has been waiting for. If crime is somehow made legal for one night in 2023, I can guarantee you that I won’t be stealing any copies of The Purge: Anarchy.

The Purge: Anarchy receives 1.5/4