This sci-fi (in the sense of an alternative social order) thriller has an interesting premise: one night a year, America suspends its laws and undergoes a nation-wide catharsis – people can kill each other without consequence. In the film’s chronology, this is widely accepted as it seems to have had positive effects on society – though this is disputed, and some have doubts about the whole system. The movie sets things up well: the main characters are a man who sells security systems for that night and his family; mundane issues like jealous neighbours and a secret boyfriend are given an edge by the setting; and a gang of well-armed preppy sociopaths hunting homeless people present a moral dilemma. However “The Purge” stumbles into being a standard home-invasion thriller; characters create problems for themselves (and especially for the poor father) through their own stupidity, and the running around displaces any exploration of the premise of the movie. While the preppy villain (whose face looks like one of the masks, and reminds me a bit of Heath Ledger) is a menacing character, for an ideas-movie the extremeness of the situation detracted rather than accented the ethical questions raised, and for an action-movie there were fewer and less elaborate confrontations than you’d expect.
The movie ends as the night concludes, with no answers other than the death or survival of the various characters. For a film with such an interesting premise that’s a very disappointing conclusion.