The Purge comes from the makers of Dark Skies, a film which was also built on the same premise – smug American suburbia is menaced by outside malevolent forces. In the case of The Purge these are human malevolent forces, as opposed to extra-terrestrials. Come to think of it, Sinister, in which an isolated household in the country is menaced by outside forces, also came from the same producers as the above two.

What Sinister and The Purge both have in common is Ethan Hawke doing a decidedly irritating turn as the man of the house who will defend his wife and kids against all comers. It’s the Wild West writ anew (or something) and Hawke fits the bill with his particular brand of hard-chinned earnestness.

In The Purge, he will draw, if necessary, on his little wardrobe of horrors, the one with the guns. Because this is Purge Night, the one night in the year when there are no forces of law and order to protect the citizens of the United States. Those citizens are now ruled by new Founding Fathers, whose bright idea of an annual gorefest allows disaffected people who have scores to settle do so without any official sanction being taken. So, at seven o’clock on a balmy sunny evening, the residents are locking up and wishing each other safe evenings behind their hi-tech security systems.

Purge night is almost a welcome challenge to Ethan Hawke’s James Sandin character as he is a hotshot in the security business. Aside from giving his house Fort Knox-like security arrangements, he has sold expensive security systems to half the neighbourhood. With the profits he has added a very handsome extension to the house, a cause of some envy among the neighbours.

So ‘grudge’ becomes ‘purge’, as it were, in the course of the evening. It doesn’t sound half as dramatic, but the film could just as realistically have been called The Grudge.

Wife Mary (Lena Headey), daughter Zoe (Adelaide Kane) and son Charlie (Max Burkholder) are pressed into service to help him defend the house when Charlie offers a homeless black man refuge, after his tearful plea for protection from a band of would-be murderers/purgers.

Unfortunately, the baddies get wind of where the black man is hiding and threaten Sandin that he must turn him in for their brand of rough justice. And if he doesn’t, they will unleash their own forces on his family. Thus the scene is set for a reasonably passable film, but sadly it descends into a concatenation of supersonic gun-blasts and cartoonish blood-letting. Ultimately depressing – there must be better escapism out there on your cinema screens.

Paddy Kehoe

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