A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
At one point in "The Purge," a horror film in which Americans are legally allowed to commit crime one night per year, a character laments that "things will never be the same ever again." The line is cringe-worthy given that the character just watched people she loves hurt somebody without hesitation, yet you don't know anyone in the film well enough to care one way or another, and the camera jiggled so much during the violence that you only got teasing, migraine-inducing impressions of the act.
Writer/director James DeMonaco, who previously scripted the surprisingly effective 2005 remake of John Carpenter's "Assault on Precinct 13," cuts creative corners this way throughout "The Purge." He often confuses economical story-telling with paint-by-numbers dialogue and vague characterizations. So instead of being a creepy B-movie about the necessity of suppressing one's animalistic urges, "The Purge" is just an uninspired film.
The concept of Purge Night is novel enough: crime is not in fact cathartic, so while behaving badly once a year may keep the the nation's crime rate down, it also turns people into monsters. But the movie forgets to explore its own premise, and instead focuses on a "Straw Dogs"-like scenario in which a home-owner resists a mob that wants to break into his house in pursuit of a fugitive they want to lynch.
The year is 2022. It may not be dystopia yet, but it's getting there. Somewhere in the suburbs, James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), a top salesman at a security company, has made a lot of money by selling home protection systems that consist of elaborate surveillance systems and steel doors that seal doors and windows. James just wants to hunker down and avoid Purge Night in his home, which, once his own security system activates, transforms into a house-shaped bank vault.