In 2022 United States law enforcement and prison management have become so overwhelmed, that the Government has decreed one annual 12 hour overnight free from criminal prosecution. Anything, including murder, is legal in this time frame and no police, fire or medical assistance is available. The Sandin family have barricaded themselves in for the night, but their morals are tested when a stranger knocks on their door during "The Purge."
Writer/director James DeMonaco ("The Negotiator") makes his directorial debut based on a provocative idea about America's growing economic divide, but he guts his own premise by both showing his hand too early and obviously, by howling lapses of logic and with weak direction of his actors. "The Purge" is the progeny of such films as "The Most Dangerous Game," "Funny Games" and "The Strangers," but is far from the equal of any of them.
After a credit roll over years' worth of surveillance tapes showing the mayhem of previous purges, we meet the cocky James Sandin (Ethan Hawke, "Before Midnight"), excitedly talking on the phone about his latest big security contract as he drives home. Back at the McMansion, even larger than others in his gated community, wife Mary Sandin (Lena Headey, HBO's 'Game of Thrones,' "Dredd") is out putting the blue flowers outside that signify patriotism for the purge when neighbor Grace Ferrin (Arija Bareikis, TV's 'Southland') stops by with a plastic smile, a plate of cookies and resentful remarks about the Sandins' new addition. Daughter Zoey (Eliza Dushku lookalike Adelaide Kane) is canoodling in her bedroom with boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller) who she's been forbidden to see by dad and son Charlie (Max Burkholder, 'Parenthood's' Max Braverman) is remote controlling his creepy baby doll robot Timmy around the house.
After a family dinner, they all go to the home's surveillance center so dad can activate their elaborate system before the purge siren goes off at 7 p.m. Steel panels come down over every window and gated door. Not long after, Charlie sees an injured Black man (Edwin Hodge, TV's 'Cougar Town') out on the street begging for help and disarms their security to let him in. In the ensuing family chaos, the man disappears within the house. Minutes later a masked preppie (Rhys Wakefield, "Sanctum") rings the bell, telling the family that although they do not want to hurt 'their own,' they will unless their prey, that 'homeless pig,' has been returned to him and his masked cohorts.
And so begins a moral dilemma - whether or not to send a man, who they have yet to find, out to certain death to protect their own under circumstances they have publicly supported. This has been complicated by another event so ludicrous it defies belief. And this is one of DeMonaco's biggest failings because although his premise is sound, just about everything he does to set it into action isn't.
Hawke, so effective in "Before Midnight," gives a one note performance as the materialistic family man and Heady, in a bad wig, gives no shading to her character. Wakefield, who quickly drops his "The Strangers" mask, mirrors the menacing politeness of "Funny Games'" Paul and is blessed with a Joker-like grin, but the director allows us to see the actor's facial strain maintaining it. DeMonaco's 'twist' ending has been telegraphed with beacons, klieg lights and loudspeakers.
"The Purge" could have been a seerthng morality play about haves and have-nots in today's America but the only thing the filmmakers have accomplished is a violent home invasion tale atop wobbly foundations.
Robin did not see this film.
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