America, a decade from now. Crime and poverty are at an all-time low. The catch: One day a year, a 12-hour period of lawlessness is unleashed upon the nation. Between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., the country gets one crazy cathartic way of getting it all out, even if "it" includes murder. (Horrible bosses beware!) The police take the night off and the hospitals shut down the emergency rooms. For the wealthy, this means barricading in for the night and hitting the "armed" switch, effectively turning their homes into giant panic rooms.
All that's left is to wait until morning. The Sandin family led by Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey are pretty secure until their young son (Parenthood's Max Burkholder) let' in a stranger and teen daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) finds her boyfriend hiding inside. Then a band of masked psychos come a knockin'. Gonna be a long night.
The Purge is in the spirit of those classic '80s thrillers most notably, John Carpenter's Escape From New York but set in the suburbs. At times creepy, the all-in-one night premise overstays its welcome just a little, but writer-director James DeMonaco deliverers a wicked litmus test for audiences. Would you just stay in...or partake in the mayhem? Five things to know before lock down:
1. The Rules of the Purge: Only class-4 weapons can be used. Attacks on level-10 government officials are prohibited. Killing the homeless? Allowed. Those who oppose the killing time believe the true goal of the purge is to rid society of the disenfranchised.
2. The Family That Shoots Together: If you are wealthy enough to afford the best security, staying in is preferable. James (Hawke) just received a big bonus for selling a ton of protection systems in his suburban enclave.
3. Satire or Horror? Besides having neighbors who despise them, lockdown brings the Gang of Eight to the Sandins' doorstep. Leading Go8 is the Polite Stranger (Rhys Wakefield). Imagine a sassier version of Draco Malfoy, but just as homicidal—balance between humor and terror can be tricky. Wakefield excels at both, usually in the same scene.
4. Are You Really All That Safe? The closing of all those metal window shades sounds mighty impressive, but there really is no protection that's 100 percent effective. Release the battering ram!
5. The Real Threat? The Entitlement Generation: Who are these nasty killers who hop, skip and love a good swing? (The prep school attire is a nice touch.) We don't know exactly, but they feel like their "right to kill" is fundamental to their way of life. Is DeMonaco poking fun at the Millennials?
(E! and Universal Pictures are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)