Kill or be killed.
That's the choice faced by the family in "The Purge," a bloody horror movie masquerading as thriller and social commentary about the near-future when the "new founding fathers" have rewritten the rules about crime and punishment.
It's March 21, 2022, and, once a year, all criminal activity including murder becomes legal for a 12-hour period known as "the Purge" when Americans can release their violence and aggression. Often, their targets are the poor, needy and sick who are unable to defend themselves, as police, fire and medical help stand down that night.
James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), however, thinks he has his family covered.
2 stars = Mediocre
Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey.
R for strong disturbing violence and some language.
He lives in a gated community and sells expensive security systems, which turn a house into a fortress with metal panels that slide down over doors and windows. James, his wife (Lena Headey) and their children have guns in a home safe, as a precaution, although they don't intend to use them.
But things go awry, thanks to the lovestruck boyfriend of the couple's 16-year-old daughter (Adelaide Kane) and their 14-year-old son (Max Burkholder), who takes pity on a homeless man (Edwin Hodge) outside pleading for refuge.
The stranger, who happens to be African-American, is being hunted by masked "Freaks" who call him a filthy swine and want to kill him -- or the Sandins if they won't accommodate their bloodlust. The leader is a young man (Rhys Wakefield), his blond hair grazing the collar of his navy preppy blazer, his looks at obvious odds with his malice.
"The Purge," written and directed by James DeMonaco (writer of the "Assault on Precinct 13" remake and "The Negotiator"), poses intriguing questions.
If you could commit a crime including murder and not be punished, would you? What would you do to save your family? Would you endorse a government that sanctions this right to bear and use arms -- or machetes, axes, baseball bats or other lethal weapons -- without adding to the prison population?
But despite creating a claustrophobic, moody atmosphere at the start and division between the haves and have-nots, "The Purge" degenerates into a horrendous game of hide and seek and sickening series of killings.
On a practical note, it makes no sense that the top-of-the-line security system wouldn't include a panic room or better back-up or even some way to dispense noxious gas outside. It spends almost no time on how the country got to this point by 2017, which appears to have been the initial Purge.
Some of the visuals of the murderous mob -- a woman in a white dress, her face obscured by a mask, languidly moving on a tree swing in the night -- are quite striking. But the movie too quickly plunges us behind the barricades and into a moral morass.
It appears the project "Purge 2" is in the planning stages. So we may get another chance to go back to the frightful future.