It starts off as perhaps the greatest film Paul Verhoeven never made. With a jolly patriotic tune playing over live feeds of people killing each other mercilessly, cheesy radio ads supporting the purge, overly friendly neighbors and Ethan Hawke’s happy-go-lucky family security salesman, something deliciously on-the-sleeve satirical was being built up to comment on the 99% vs. 1% monetary wealth debate.
The plot takes place in the United States 2022, where one night a year for 12 hours people are legally allowed to commit any act of criminality without legal repercussion. We follow the Sandin family, whose patriarch James profits off this night as a home security salesman, as they come under attack in their pricey home by a gang of murderers after they take in a young injured man on the run. The purgers demands? Give us the man you’ve sheltered or we’ll break in and kill you all.
Ethan Hawke is certainly having some fun playing this white-collar family man on the verge of sleaziness. Lena Headey, while certainly a very capable actress, is sadly not given much to do beyond being frightened for the largest duration of the film. Rhys Wakefield has equal amounts of fun playing the gang leader, a cross between Patrick Bateman and The Humungus.
After the gang shows up, the film devolves into a standard home-invasion film, taking place inside this house. The 3rd act itself descends into almost laughable action film parody. While writer/director James DeMonaco does do a commendable job of keeping the claustrophobic tension at a height, I can’t help but feel that some of the film’s initial message and satirical flavor was lost along the way. It sets itself up with one of the most intriguing premises of recent years, but then subsequently takes the most derivative path out.