A home-invasion thriller with a twist, this fiercely clever film is both thought-provoking and terrifying, mixing a Twilight Zone sense of morality with skilfully developed menace and genuinely horrific violence. It also boasts a cast that is terrific at keeping us guessing, shading their characters in such a way that, even if we know who's supposed to be the good and bad guys, we keep wondering if we've got it right.
The story takes place in 2022 America, which has solved its economic woes with Purge Night, a free-for-all in which people have 12 hours to commit any crime, including murder, to cleanse the streets and vent their frustration. The goal is to eliminate poverty and unemployment by killing off all the homeless and jobless people. And it's worked a charm, especially for security system salesman James (Hawke), who locks down inside his palatial home with wife Mary (Headey), rebellious teen daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and shy gadget-whiz son Charlie (Burkholder). But two interlopers get into the house: Zoey's shady older boyfriend Henry (Oller) and a terrified stranger (Hodge) running from an angry mob of tenacious masked anarchists.
As the night progresses, James and Mary's world is ripped apart piece by piece, descending into a state of primal protectiveness that's eerily believable. If it's either kill or be killed, what would you do? Hawke and Headey are terrific as parents pushed to the brink, and sometimes over it, while Kane and Burkholder find surprising moments of their own. And as the smiling gang leader, Wakefield is seriously unsettling. So even if some of the plot's twists and turns are a bit predictable, the actors and filmmaker DeMonaco do a great job at delving beneath the surface to keep us squirming in our seats at both the nasty possibilities and some rather awful grisliness.
Best of all is the way the film gently satirises the current frustration between the haves and have-nots. Behind our tidy facades, most of us are annoyed that someone else is doing a lot better than us, often at our expense, so wouldn't it be nice to have one night in which we could even the playing field? OK, so the ethics of all of this aren't actually that complex, but when push comes to shove we're not quite sure what decisions we'd make. And as the film finds fresh ways to freak us out, even as the plot gets somewhat corny, we know that the scariest thing about this situation is that even if they survive things will never be the same again.
Run time: 85 mins
In Theaters: Friday 7th June 2013
Box Office USA: $64.4M
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Production compaines: Universal Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, Platinum Dunes, Why Not Productions
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 38%
Fresh: 51 Rotten: 84
IMDB: 5.6 / 10
Director: James DeMonaco
Screenwriter: James DeMonaco
Starring: Lena Headey as Mary Sandin, Ethan Hawke as James Sandin, Max Burkholder as Charlie Sandin, Adelaide Kane as Zoey Sandin, Rhys Wakefield as Polite Leader, Tony Oller as Henry, Edwin Hodge as Bloody Stranger, Tom Yi as Mr. Cali, Arija Bareikis as Mrs. Grace Ferrin, Chris Mulkey as Mr. Halverson, Tisha French as Mrs. Halverson, Dana Bunch as Mr. Ferrin, Peter Gvozdas as Dr. Peter Buynak, John Weselcouch as Freak Interrupting, Alicia Vela-Bailey as Female Freak