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Helter Skelter

The Purge (2013)

Daniel McFadden/Universal Pictures

Arriving a bit late to the already swinging eat-the-rich party, James DeMonaco's "The Purge" has a go at tying economic unfairness, class war, home invasion movies and the Tea Party together into a big satirical whole. But the United States has been on the cinematic analyst's couch forever, and Mr. DeMonaco picks metaphors that are already worn smooth. Even smoother are the mechanics of the modern horror film, which "The Purge" embraces completely for long stretches of characters peering around corners in the dark and yelping at unexpected reflections in mirrors, before they set about each other with axes. The only slightly surprising subtext to find in such company is one the trailers have studiously avoided; not at all coincidentally, it's the one that's authentically conservative.

According to Mr. DeMonaco's story, a mere decade from now will see the recently installed U.S. ruling party, the New Founders of America no less, sanctioning a once-a-year 12-hour meltdown of unrestrained slaughter. Anyone not in a position to retreat behind fortified (i.e. expensive) walls is fair game for any citizen who feels like a cathartic murder or two before bedtime, while the affluent sit it out and watch on television with a nice merlot. The mechanics of this coordinated 7 p.m.-to-7 a.m. shindig across an entire continent are murky — heaven knows what happens in Indiana — but the result is apparently a cushy life for the likes of James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), wealthy supplier of security equipment and not-all-that-conflicted spectator. His comeuppance arrives from several directions at once: his children's wishy-washy liberal ambivalence boils over; a homeless black man takes cover in his house; and a Manson-esque bunch of cheerfully zonked psychos come skipping up the driveway.

Although the film perks up when the leader of the loons (Rhys Wakefield) turns out to be the dead spit of a young Christoph Waltz, the overearnest bashing of the 1 percent is way too simplistic to count as meaningful satire, even with a long-visible twist approaching from the first reel. There's a bit more spice in the fact that, unremarked in the dialog, the homeless fugitive is clearly signposted as a military veteran, a development that shunts the whole film distinctly to the right. An equal opportunity moralist, Mr. DeMonaco identifies the problems on all sides but can offer few viable solutions, although the hints that 2022 is a distinctly matriarchal society suggest that marrying a certified ass-kicker such as Lena Headey in time for the collapse of society might be a spectacularly wise maneuver.


Opens on May 31 in Britain and on June 7 in the United States.

Written and directed by James DeMonaco; director of photography, Jacques Jouffret; edited by Peter Gvozdas; music by Nathan Whitehead; production design by Melanie Paizis-Jones; costumes by Lisa Norcia; produced by Jason Blum, Sébastien K. Lemercier, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller and Michael Bay; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes. This film is rated 15 by B.B.F.C. and R by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Ethan Hawke (James Sandin), Lena Headey (Mary Sandin), Adelaide Kane (Zoey Sandin), Max Burkholder (Charlie Sandin) and Edwin Hodge (Bloody Stranger).


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