James DeMonaco’s new “home invasion” horror movie The Purge begins with an actual idea: In the year 2022, an annual 12-hour “purge” has been enacted. During this time, American citizens can do anything they want, legally, including murder. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) has made a fortune selling security systems to the wealthy, and he prepares to barricade himself in with his wife (Lena Headey) and kids (Max Burkholder and Adelaide Kane) for this year’s event. Of course, everything goes wrong, and no fewer than four intruders—or teams of intruders—enter the house. DeMonaco creates a charming villain in Rhys Wakefield, and conjures some nightmarish imagery of attackers wearing eerie, smiling masks.
The movie’s best trick is that it draws the audience into this idealism. What would you do? Is this right or wrong? Or, worse, is it an unholy mix of the two? Not so tricky are the movie’s thriller aspects, which resort to fairly routine cat-and-mouse stalking around the house; characters almost never seem to be looking in the right direction.
However, DeMonaco (screenwriter of The Negotiator and the Assault on Precinct 13 remake) keeps upping the ante according to the rules. “Fight or flight” takes on a whole new meaning when there are no consequences. Being human isn’t so pretty anymore, and this pessimistic purge is impossible to avoid thinking about.