DeMonaco sets his actions in the year 2022, a time when American citizens recognize an evening of lawlessness every year known nationally as Purge Night. In an effort to vent our inherent homicidal rages, a political body known as the New Founding Fathers declare all crime – including murder – legal for 12 hours. Those who have no need to purge hide behind expensive security systems peddled by James Sandin (Ethan Hawke). But on this particular Purge Night, as series of incidents and accidents so absurd are going to cause headaches for the unsuspecting Sandin clan … and create a putrid movie-going experience for anyone foolish enough to give The Purge a try.
The absurd ethnic-cleansing rationales behind The Purge sound revolutionary enough that I found myself considering how successful they could be even as DeMonaco opens his film with a disturbing marriage of sound and imagery. He plays soothing symphonic melodies over video-camera footage – official Purge feeds – of some truly horrifically violent criminal acts, from public beatings with sticks and baseball bats to rudimentary gun play by unruly mobs.
The brazen confidence of that disturbing juxtaposition bleeds out, however, once DeMonaco transitions The Purge into its second act. Having established a skin-crawling sense of dread, the film tries to up the ante but spins clumsily into textbook horror-movie idiocy and lazy slasher-genre jumps in the dark.