The Purge has a singularly dopey premise, but it’s that premise that keeps writer-director James DeMonaco’s little movie from being just another low-rent horror picture. Setting the film in the (improbably) near future, DeMonaco presents us with a United States that has apparently been remade by the never explained “new founding fathers” into a kind of Ayn Rand-Tea Party-NRA nightmare. This whole new society, which on the surface looks like a Reagan-era fantasy of the 1950s, seems to hinge on the Purge of the title. The Purge is a once-a-year 12 hour period (overnight, of course, to make it creepier) in which all crime is legal, including murder — exempting high-level government officials (the new founding fathers are no fools). The idea is theoretically that this purges the populace of their “need” for violence by indulging it once a year. The reality, however, is that it allows the well-to-do the opportunity to exterminate those pesky unemployed and homeless folks with impunity — even as their patriotic duty. As a concept, it’s pretty chilling. As presented in the film, it looks pretty darn impractical. The film is considerably less than its concept and quickly becomes little more than an excuse to turn the whole thing into a standard home invasion thriller. At bottom, it’s all about a well-to-do family finding themselves under siege when the son (Max Burkholder) takes pity on a potential Purge victim (Edwin Hodge) and lets him into the house. The Purge party wants him back, but since they’ve cut the power to the house, poor homeowner James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) can’t even locate the miscreant. A lot of running around in the dark and not very persuasive sub-Straw Dogs mayhem follows — interspersed with clunky exchanges about the morality of it all. That’s about it.
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