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Bing bong!

Who is it?

Homicidal maniacs, here to kill you and your family. Open up and let us in.

Well now. Let’s just say that if a viewer isn’t able to buy into what “The Purge” is selling, that viewer is going to be in for a very long 85 minutes at the multiplex.

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Talk about tough sells. The premise of “The Purge” is that, in the not-too-distant future, American society has arrived at a point where crime has become almost nonexistent. That’s because for one special night each year people are free to commit any and all misdeeds imaginable — yes, murder is fine — with total impunity. “Purge and cleanse,” they call it. “Release the beast.” No cops will stop you. Flush the evil out of society’s system in one 12-hour spasm of überviolence. Then, when the clock strikes 7 the next morning … Bing! It stops. Just like that. And everybody instantly turns nicey-nicey for a whole year until the next Purge.

To which one can only say: Say what? How does that work, exactly?

No real answers are provided by writer-director James DeMonaco. He simply presents this bizarre dystopian future, and the audience is left to take it or leave it.

He apparently intends his movie to be some sort of critique of gated communities and racism, with his main characters, a white family (headed by Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey), sheltering in a high-tech suburban fortress. On Purge Night, a desperate black stranger (Edwin Hodge) pleads to be let in because a group of bloodthirsty white preppies — Honest! — is hunting him. The couple’s compassionate young son (Max Burkholder) lets the fugitive in, and the leader of the masked, machete-wielding prepsters, a creep with a Joker grin (Rhys Wakefield) spouting quasi-religious gibberish, promises to bust in and kill everyone in the house.

DeMonaco neglects to give the black fugitive and the white crazies anything resembling personalities. They’re stick-figure symbols of something or other, empty of content.

One gets the impression DeMonaco also wants to comment on violence in America. Naturally, he does so by soaking the screen in the very thing the picture presumes to condemn.

Soren Andersen:

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