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(2013) (Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: A family must contend with unexpected developments as they hunker down in their secured home during a once-a-year, twelve-hour period where all crimes, including murder, are legal.
It's the year 2022 and James Sandin (ETHAN HAWKE) has made a fine living selling home security systems to all sorts of people, including his neighbor Grace (ARIJA BAREIKIS). It's a booming market, especially considering that the U.S. government and its new founding fathers have created a once-a-year, 12-hour period where all crimes, including murder, are legal. Despite the obvious potential peril of such a societal pressure relief program -- that's resulted in nearly no other crime for the rest of the year -- James and his wife, Mary (LENA HEADEY), are as calm as can be in the hours leading up to the 7 p.m. start of the Purge. But that isn't true of their kids.

Zoey (ADELAIDE KANE) is in typical defiant and perpetually perturbed teen girl mode, especially since her dad doesn't approve of her dating her now 18-year-old boyfriend, Henry (TONY OLLER). Her younger, tech-obsessed brother, Charlie (MAX BURKHOLDER), can't wrap his head around the Purge and the fact that while his parents don't participate, they condone those who do. As a result, he ends up letting a panicky and injured stranger (EDWIN HODGE) in their home, a development that James can't immediately deal with as Henry also shows up already in their house with an axe to grind with him.

As that quickly escalates into violence and James and Mary lose track of the stranger, things become even more complicated when a group of Purge participants and their leader (RHYS WAKEFIELD) show up at the front door and demand that the stranger be released back to them. If James doesn't comply, the leader states they'll breach the house's security, enter and kill him and his family along with the stranger. Torn about what to do, James tries to figure out the best course of action that will keep him and his family alive until the following morning.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
At a somewhat pivotal point in the futuristic thriller "The Purge," the film's protagonist states -- much to the shock of his family -- that the security systems he sells and has had installed on their own home are ninety-nine percent effective. While that would likely be sufficient to ward off home burglars and teen pranksters, it -- he adds -- is not designed for worst case scenarios and instead is more of a visual and psychological deterrent.

Maybe it's just me, but my definition of "worst case scenarios" includes home invasion with the sole intention of murder. And I'm not talking just a disgruntled current or past customer of said security systems who's upset that the one they had installed didn't keep the misdemeanor crowed at bay and now want to get some comeuppance with the salesman who sold them the less than 100% effective unit.

Instead, I'm referring to the titular 12 hour period each year where laws are suspended and people are allowed to vent their frustration, anger and rage on pretty much anyone they want (except, natch, for very high level government officials who've created this "controlled" chaos). It's sort of akin to a pressure release valve on any device to prevent an explosion. Here, it's designed to create an otherwise peaceful and law-abiding society during the remaining 8753.81 hours of the year. But during those other 12, and as Cole Porter once wrote long ago, anything goes, including murder.

So, everyone goes about their everyday lives until just before 7 pm on March 22, 2022 when the hatches are battened in preparation of the Purge kickoff. For our family man protagonist (Ethan Hawke), this is all good news. He's had a banner year and is the top salesman around, meaning their already large house has had a big new addition tacked on, while he and his wife (Lena Headey) are also shopping for a new boat.

While they believe in the Purge for its societal benefits, they have no need to participate, something that confounds their kids: Adelaide Kane as the perturbed teen who can't understand why her dad doesn't like her 18-year-old boyfriend (Tony Oller) and especially her younger, tech-obsessed brother (Max Burkholder), who has a habit of driving around his motorized, surveillance equipped baby doll robot around the house (something that will obviously come in handy later on as the plot unfolds).

The family seems set for the next 12 hours except for two little things. One, the boy has spotted an anxious stranger (Edwin Hodge) outside the house screaming for help and thus lets him in. The second is that the now adult boyfriend has also let himself in and wants to have a word with his girlfriend's dad about their relationship. Or so he says as Porter's lyrics once again come to mind.

Things become more complicated when a number of Purge revelers (led by a menacingly smiling Rhys Wakefield who'd make Alex from "A Clockwork Orange" proud) arrive at the house in full creep-out mode, including wearing exaggerated masks, wielding all sorts of weapons and being quite desirous of having their escaped "rabbit" (the stranger the boy let in) returned to them for the pleasure of their hunt. If the family doesn't comply, the intruders will huff, puff and blow their house in. All of which gets us back to the 99% effective home protection system.

Writer/director James DeMonaco isn't too far from his comfort zone as he previously scripted the 2005 remake of John Carpenter's "Assault on Precinct 13." In that film, Hawke also starred, that time as a police sergeant who had to deal with a nighttime attack on his police station where the intruders' desire was to kill all of those inside.

That was a fairly straightforward action flick, and while this one has similar moments of the same sort of "repel the attackers" material, it also features a much deeper subtext. Beyond the overall sci-fi premise, there's the question of whether you'd throw an already injured stranger to the wolves in order to save your family.

A bit more interesting is that DeMonaco also plays up and off the audience's built-in bloodlust for watching onscreen violence. That's obviously nothing new as filmmakers have been doing that decades, but with the thematic material thrown in, it becomes an interesting study as we end up rooting for the family to kill the intruders and then realize, if we're cognizant enough, that we've been lured into such behavior that we're supposed to find abhorrent. The filmmaker also throws in a sly little twist near the end that only drives home that point even more.

I did have some logistical issues with the pic (such as why the family waits until nearly the last minute before activating and raising their shields, not to mention why there's no fortified safe room in the house in case of a system failure or breach) and realize that "Panic Room" essentially told the same sort of basic tale more effectively more than a decade ago. And some surprises are too easy to predict, while there are some obvious "huh?" moments.

Even so, I found this flick moderately intriguing. And that's mainly due to the premise and themes regarding a society and government that's imposed a "solution" on the masses where "The world has gone mad today. And good's bad today. And black's white today. And day's night today...Anything goes." "The Purge" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed June 4, 2013 / Posted June 7, 2013

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