It's America in 2022, and “the New Founding Fathers” are in charge. They've instituted a system of social engineering that's virtually eradicated unemployment and violent crime, and, yet, recognizing the darker side of human nature, they've set aside one night each year in which the populace is allowed a bloody, cathartic venting of anarchy and murderous rage.
That's the utterly preposterous premise of “The Purge,” writer-director James DeMonaco's hazily satirical, sci-fi home invasion thriller whose one big idea is buried beneath a clumsy onslaught of genre cliches and tired old fright-movie tactics.
Following the well-trod path of several better movies, from Sam Peckinpah's classic “Straw Dogs” to John Carpenter's “Assault On Precinct 13” (which DeMonaco remade in 2005 with Ethan Hawke starring), this film starts with a pretty good idea — that even in well-ordered, security-obsessed suburbia, we're never as safe as we hope to be.
But when the lights go out and the bloody-minded crazies emerge from the night, DeMonaco's tale quickly stumbles and loses its way.
Purge night is the one government-sanctioned night of the year when people are allowed, actually urged, to indulge their vilest impulses. With certain restrictions limiting weapons of mass destruction and protecting higher ups in the government, people are encouraged to take to the streets to plunder, burn, maraud, rape and kill as they please — with no fear of repercussion.
Of course, this being America, the one-percenters such as James Sandin (Hawke) and his family — wife Mary (Lena Headey), older daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and younger son Charlie (Max Burkholder) — are free to lock themselves in their McMansions, arm their high-tech security systems and wait it out.