America, 2022. To maintain a peaceful, prosperous society, crime is legalised for one night a year. James (Ethan Hawke) and Mary Sandin (Lena Headey) and their children hunker down in a fortified suburban home, but murderous people gather on their lawn.
Once past its ‘you gotta be kidding’ premise – blithely ignoring all the questions any audience will have about how such a fantastical set-up would work – writer-director James DeMonaco’s The Purge is an effective, shocking Straw Dogs-Precinct 13ish home siege thriller. It sidesteps the usual endorsement of vigilante values by not making its villains the usual lowlife scum but masked preppies out to get a homeless veteran the Sandins’ young son has let take refuge in their ideal home fortress. All the apparatus of macho action – plentiful guns and stabbing implements, wielded ruthlessly by desperate people – is deployed in the service of a story which has its cake (tons of exciting violence) and eats it (by saying violence is really bad).
Hawke and Lena make for an initially smug couple, exciting the neighbours’ envy with their home extension and confident in their security systems. They go all the way crazy as the night kicks off with their daughter’s boyfriend trying to get a free shot at domineering Dad and escalates as an army of masked sadists show up wanting to take advantage of the free pass to kill. It takes care to toss in plot twists and not take the expected turns – it’s a modern B picture, but acceptable fast food cinema.
A small-scale science fiction/action/horror picture with some smarts but likely to confirm all your prejudices about gun-loving Americans.