The new thriller “The Purge” imagines a compromised but revitalized American future in which a yearly night of government-sanctioned law-breaking — murder even — gives a brutal-minded national soul therapeutic catharsis. Or, more accurately, it conveniently rids the populace of undesirables who can’t defend themselves as well as the moneyed classes. But that’s an awfully big concept for the dreary exploitation slog that writer-director James DeMonaco serves up, a routine home invasion movie more interested in B-horror tropes and bloodletting than a thought-provoking look at “Hunger Games"-ish class warfare.
Base of operations is the gated community residence of Purge-cheerleading security system entrepreneur James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) and wife Mary (Lena Headey). Just after lockdown, James’ ethics are put to the test when their 14-year-old son Charlie (Max Burkholder) lets in a homeless man (Edwin Hodge) being hunted by thrill-kill preppies in creepy masks.
But it’s almost astonishing how little genuine tension exists in the ensuing siege scenario, considering DeMonaco’s familiarity with John Carpenter’s unnerving classic “Assault on Precinct 13,” the clichéd remake of which he wrote. Society may willfully crumble for 12 hours in this speculative world, but so does DeMonaco’s premise in a humdrum series of unlit-hallway explorations, cheap scares and violent showdowns. Starved by the easy genre machinations suggested by its own concept, “The Purge” is an emptying experience indeed.
MPAA rating: R for strong disturbing violence and some language.
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.
Playing: In wide release.