If you’ve seen the trailer for The Purge, you know it’s got a hell of a premise. The year is 2022, and America has rebounded from financial catastrophe. Unemployment is at an all-time low and crime is virtually non-existent. Why? Because one night every year, law-abiding citizens are given a no-questions-asked license to kill, freeing them of the violent impulses they might feel on the other 364 days of the year. So go ahead and sharpen that machete, lock and load that Smith & Wesson, and unleash your inner rage, because Purge Night is here.
Awesome, right? Too bad writer-director James DeMonaco doesn’t take that setup far enough. As the film opens, we meet Ethan Hawke’s James Sandin, a home-security salesman who’s made a fortune off his neighbors’ fear, pimping their McMansions into high-tech fortresses of solitude. These folks are too bland to be killers, so when Purge Night comes, they lock down and watch the violence on TV like at a Super Bowl party.
Sandin, his wife (Lena Headey), and their two kids (Adelaide Kane and Max Burkholder) think they’re safe from the chaos outside too. But then a hunted black man (Edwin Hodge) shows up begging to be let in. What should they do? DeMonaco, who wrote another Hawke siege movie, 2005’s Assault on Precinct 13, loads his satire with more political baggage than it can bear. And it dissolves into a typical home-invasion thriller whose big ideas about race, class, and social violence get trumped by its desire to hit genre beats. The Purge clearly has a lot on its mind, but it never really manages to express it. B-