THE PURGE (NC16)
Duration: 85 minutes/Opens on Wednesday
The story: A few years in the future, crime has been largely eradicated because one night each year, all citizens are allowed to go berserk without legal consequences. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) lives in an exclusive gated community with wife Mary (Lena Headey) and children. On Purge night, he locks down their fortress-like home, but things go awry after son Charlie (Max Burkeholder) allows an intruder to enter.
Somewhere in here is a dark and deliciously nasty story about the weirdness that can be unleashed if for just one day, people's impulses for murder, revenge, rape and pillage are given free rein.
But if that kernel ever existed, it is now buried under gunfights and family-bonding sentimentality.
Cowardice, laziness or avarice? All three, most likely. It has turned a film with a potentially riveting Twilight Zone-ish premise into a generic home-invasion shoot-'em-up.
There is a bit of Panic Room (2002) here, mixed with the masked stranger-danger of Halloween (1978), as well as ideas borrowed from a dozen other films.
It could have gone so well. Tearing away the veil that hides the barbarism that throbs beneath the veneer of civilisation is an evergreen subject of drama.
This work puts an intriguing new twist on it, by adding the element of the cruelty being allowed, even encouraged. Going wild for one night makes a citizen mild the rest of the year, goes the reasoning.