The year is 2022, and the United States of America is currently enjoying an all-time low in unemployment, a booming economy and a zero percent crime level… except for one night a year, when for twelve hours straight, all crime is legal. The Annual Purge is a pressure release valve for the entire nation, and is believed to be the reason why the country is in such a state of bliss for those other 364 days of the year.
It is on this night that we meet the Sandin family; we have dad James (Ethan Hawke) who is a security salesman, mum Mary (Lena Headey) is a perfect housewife, loved up teenage daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) who comes complete with troublesome boyfriend, and sensitive emo-kid Charlie (Max Burkholder) who is questioning the entire Purge process. It is his questioning that causes him to let a stranger into their locked-down house, and this stranger is currently being hunted by a group of Purgers who give the family a choice; send the stranger out, or they will come in and kill everyone.
Unquestionably, this is a hugely interesting set-up, one which is unfortunately wasted on yet another run-of-the-mill home-invasion thriller. We are given a glimpse into this alternate-universe USA and we imagine all of the alternative routes this story could have taken, but then we get closed in to the confines of a single house with a singular problem. This is a very smart idea told rather stupidly, a very unique story told like countless others.
Hawke and Headey do well with their restrictive roles - basically look scared for an hour - and how they react to their situation will make you ask "What Would I Do?" a few times before the end credits. The eventual violence-filled finale is quite cathartic, which nicely folds back into the point the movie was trying to make, but it's performed upon characters you won't care about, particularly the painfully over-the-top lead bad guy, Home & Away's Rhys Wakefield.
Perhaps the worst crime that The Purge commits is just not being scary. A few jump-jolts here and there, but nothing compared to the existential chills that the central premise should've inspired. Not the worst horror of 2013, but definitely one of the most disappointing.