THE PURGE Every day, Ethan Hawke waits for the mail. Nothing ever comes.

IN THE NEAR FUTURE, crime has been eradicated in the United States—except for 12 hours every year, when bloody hell breaks loose. That day, known as the "Purge," is a no-holds-barred bloodfest. Americans are encouraged by the government to loot, rape, and murder with impunity, as a means to keep violence at bay for the rest of the year. The haves lock themselves into their fortified McMansions, while the have-nots get beaten to pulps in dank alleyways. Thus sets the stage for writer/director James DeMonaco's tense little morality tale The Purge.

In this slice of dystopia, James (Ethan Hawke) sells high-end lockdown systems to the affluent, which keep the annual Purgers at bay. Cozy and smug in a gated community, his wife Mary (Lena Headey, AKA Cersei Lannister!) and their two kids seem a little dubious of the reactive holiday, casting sidelong eyes at the closed-captioned snuff films beamed into Americans' TVs during the Purge. But it is what it is, right? Until their sympathetic son lets a hunted homeless man into their "panic house" during the annual blood bath, and a gang of WASPy, mask-wearing boarding school psychopaths aims to smoke him out or kill the entire family in the process.

If it all sounds a little fraught and maybe a touch heavy-handed, I'm not going to spend too much time contradicting you. But it's also a pretty darned good, suspenseful, twisty bit of cinematic claustrophobia. The Purge is a home-invasion flick that's gory and sick and allegorical, blanketed in physical darkness, with a tinge of Bret Easton Ellis-esque American psychopathy for good measure. Even with its high concept, it sticks to a simple system of scare, menace, and bully, simultaneously making the audience a crowd of bloodthirsty Purgers while repulsing with its depictions of rich white people unleashing their inner beasts.