By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
Yes, of course: You’ve just seen someone shot dead in your home on the night designated as a nationwide lawless spree during which nobody will be held accountable for their violent actions, plus a stranger burst into the house a moment before the gunplay and is loose on the premises.
You could stick with your family and their weapons supply. But no, by all means, go off alone and see what happens. Makes perfect sense, right?
Pity “The Purge”: Every time this movie comes near something truly eerie in its concept, it reverts to behavioral stupidity to keep its plot going. And in the course of its single-location 85 minutes, it really needs to keep its plot going.
It’s the year 2026, and America has adopted the Purge. This is a single night of unrestrained, unpunished violence, most of which is aimed at people who can’t afford to barricade themselves inside homes with security systems.
Sounds crazy, but the Purge keeps the country at peace the other 364 days of the year. We’re going to spend this night inside a well-appointed mansion in a wealthy gated community, where a family has deployed steel doors and settled in to watch the show on their surveillance cameras.
In fact, patriarch James (Ethan Hawke, maintaining the besieged vein of last year’s “Sinister”) makes his money selling home-security systems, so there’s irony in his house turning into a target for the night. He and his wife, Mary, have two kids, neither of whom acts in sensible ways.
Because Mary is played by Lena Headey, from “300” and “Game of Thrones,” we have a reasonable expectation that she will summon up some fierceness during the night. The family is going to need it, because a gang of weirdies is outside, demanding blood.
Even if the idea might not hold a lot of real-world credibility, writer-director James DeMonaco is aiming at some interesting ideas about the outlets of violence, and the complacency of this sheltered family, and the thin veneer that separates civilized behavior from barbarism.
An uncomfortable sequence involving the restraint of a hostage really drives this home. Yet “The Purge” can’t play fair with its own premise, or even with its limited set.
Time after time, the characters behave in the way most likely to get them purged. Although gun battles break out after the mansion is breached, nobody seems to hear shots going off in other parts of the building.
And if you’re going to stage an entire movie inside a house, it would be useful for the audience to know where things are. Instead, “The Purge” is a jumble of scenes in different rooms, completely disconnected from each other logically or spatially. Not the way to survive the most chaotic night of the year.
“The Purge” (1½ stars)
An interesting idea (in 2026, America is free of violence except for one sanctioned night of complete, unpunished mayhem) gets wasted in this misfire. Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey lead the cast of characters who do very stupid things to keep the plot moving.
Rated: R for violence, language.
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marsyville, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Sundance, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.