Hey, Ethan Hawke shaved for this movie!

Hey, Ethan Hawke shaved for this movie!

The Purge is a fairly standard home invasion movie, down to the comely teenage daughter and the brainy younger kid: Strangers break into an obscenely big house, nuclear family strikes back (as seen in Straw Dogs, Desperate Hours, Funny Games and several Nicolas Cage movies). The most significant aspect of the film is the political context that frames the story.

The premise of the film refers to a morally reprehensible public policy: One night a year, the American government suspends all emergency services and the rule of law. The desired effect is the elimination of the non-contributing elements of society (shades of the Mitt Romney tape that cost him the election) at hands of the most productive members, i.e. the rich, who can afford weapons and security. Subtle, this movie ain’t.

The obvious ethical issues matter very little as “the purge” leads to unprecedented prosperity: Unemployment and crime rate hit all time lows, same as poverty. The destitute can barely defend themselves, so they are being exterminated.

The film explores issues as resentment and revenge as side-effects, but since The Purge is more concerned with thrilling the audience (it doesn’t) than develop the provocative thesis, the whole enterprise becomes an exercise in futility.

Considering the edgy approach, it’s somewhat surprising a major studio (Universal) is distributing The Purge. Sure, Michael Bay is producing, but with no explosions involved and given his track record with horror films (the awful reinventions of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th and The Hitcher), his name is no guarantee of quality.

Then again, has it ever been?

Two and a half prairie dogs, for effort.