NOW IN THEATERS! Like the Saw franchise, The Purge series has endured longer than many would have expected, amassed a following by reveling in its exploitation roots, and occasionally flirted with grander socio-political ideas. The Forever Purge is the fifth and apparently final entry in the franchise (not including the television series). Creator James DeMonaco returns once again as writer, but like 2018’s prequel The First Purge, he hands the directing reins over to another. Everardo Gout, who helmed a vicious, vigorous Spanish exploitation flick, Days of Heaven.
And while the film series is not even a decade old, the country in which its set has seen an ugly shift in that time, edging some of its once-outlandish scenes to resemble B-roll footage on the nightly news. Moreover, America’s last four years of hateful rhetoric culminating in the violent insurrection at the Capitol has placed The Purge series at a crossroads: should it hold the mirror up to the country’s ugly truths, or play to its violent grindhouse genetics and run the risk of exploiting actual crises for entertainment?
For the uninitiated, the film’s universe is one in which a fascistic U.S. right-wing party allows its citizens to engage in a 12-hour free-for-all where all crime is legal in an effort to make America great again. It has hewed closely to its original narrative for four films: placing the audience with hapless leads as they endure a night eluding mask-wearing creeps with a government-sanctioned greenlight to kill.
In The Forever Purge, DeMonaco strays slightly from the norm. It follows a Mexican couple, Adela (Ana de la Reguera) and Juan (Tenoch Huerta), living in Texas to avoid their homeland’s violent cartels. While they both are learning to assimilate to their new life, Juan remains proud of his heritage, even when he’s subjected to the casual and blatant racism he faces as a ranch hand at the palatial estate of the Tuckers. The affluent family enjoys their privilege, and patriarch Caleb (Will Patton) actually respects his help’s diversity.
“…refuses to end the violence after its 7 a.m. cutoff and vows to cleanse the country…”
This sentiment is not shared by Caleb’s son Dylan (Josh Lucas), who’s blind to his own racism and shudders at the thought of a Hispanic nanny for his unborn son. But, Dylan receives a quick lesson in irony following the newly reinstated Purge Night, when a splinter group called the “Ever After” refuses to end the violence after its 7 a.m. cutoff and vows to cleanse the country of not only immigrants but wealthy families like his.
As with previous entries, there are flickers that suggest larger ambitions. After the most recent Purge Night, we get a glimpse of its aftermath as the town scrubs its blood-stained streets and attempts to return to normal. But the movie has no time for such insight as we are soon plunged back into chaos once again, causing Adela, Juan, and the Tuckers to form an unlikely bond to elude this hate-fueled mob.
Even though it was filmed prior to the attempted coup on January 6th, The Forever Purge missed an opportunity by painting its antagonists with broad strokes (some bearing swastikas on their face) instead of introducing a more insidious, hive-minded mob like the country currently faces. It ultimately descends into a parade of the same violence that accuses the fictional, prejudiced proletariats of causing.
Gout has helmed a production that is a visual improvement over The First Purge (which was directed by Gerard McMurray) by dragging the fight into daylight. There is a sense of urgency that has been shrouded in shadows in previous installments. But like all of its predecessors, its overtly political message can’t decide whether its violence is justified or glorified. This means it sits right at average.
"…[the] series has endured longer than many would have expected..."