If “The Hunger Games” can imagine a dystopian society where children hunting and murdering one another is not only sanctioned but required, then there’s certainly room for “The Purge.”
In this barely futuristic thriller, set in 2022, all crime is legal for one night a year as Americans are urged to “release the beast,” letting hate and violence run wild for 12 hours. Doing so reduces crime the other 364 days of the year, it is reasoned. From 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., all emergency services are suspended, and absolutely anything goes.
From an originality perspective, “The Purge” beats the typical summer hodgepodge of sequels and superheroes hands-down.
James (Ethan Hawke) is a family man who has done well equipping his neighbors’ homes with high-tech security systems to protect themselves during the purge.
He and his wife Mary (Lena Headey), teenage daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and adolescent son Charlie (Max Burkholder) have hunkered down in their gated-community home for the night with no worries of what might unfold outside.
If only it were that easy.
What they don’t count on is that Zoey’s boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller) has secretly hunkered down with them — or that Charlie, spotting a bloodied, screaming man (Edwin Hodge) in distress in front of their house, would disarm the home and let the man inside.
Moments later, a ghoulish, masked crew (led by Rhys Wakefield) brandishing weapons is on the front porch demanding that the family give up the “homeless pig” or they will be slaughtered.
The great premise in “The Purge” — and it is a great premise, while being no “Hunger Games” — is squandered on a few levels.
For starters, it doesn’t know whether it’s social satire, a “Panic Room” home-invasion chiller or a creepier home-invasion flick like horror movie “The Strangers,” so it ends up being a little of everything — just adequately enough.
The many scenes of cat-and-mouse and hide-and-seek in the dark are tedious, and there are no sincere jolts or gotcha moments.
But a bit of a turn at the end, which some will detect from the beginning, serves as a redeemer for this good but not-good-enough schlocker.
What “The Purge” • Two and a half stars out of four • Rating R • Run time 1:25 • Content Strong language and strong, disturbing violence