‘The Forever Purge’ Plunges America Into a Bloody Romp Both Silly and Eerie
There’s something about “The Purge” franchise that always hints there’s a better movie hiding beneath the gory schlock. “The Forever Purge” is not a great film per se, packed with exploitation and stereotypes. Yet at the same time, like many B-movies, this latest Blumhouse romp has a funny way of tapping into the times with its apocalyptic, eerie imagery. Originally slated for a 2020 release but pushed back due to the pandemic, it was obviously tailor-made for last year’s intense election season. The result is a curious bit of pop trash where the screenplay is on autopilot, the third act is another round of nonstop violence, but a lot of the images don’t seem too far-fetched in a post-Trump America. Reportedly this is the final chapter in the series, and if that holds, it’s not the worst of the bunch.
Every new entry in the series touches on a hot button issue somehow, so naturally “The Forever Purge” has finally arrived at the topic of undocumented migrants. We first meet Juan (Tenoch Huerta) and wife Adela (Ana de la Reguera), as they make their way through a tunnel system that crosses from Mexico into the United States, seeking a better life. Fast forward to a few years later and they have settled in a small Texas town. Adela works at a meat-packing plant and Juan at a large ranch owned by a white family whose eldest son, Dylan Tucker (Josh Lucas), doesn’t like immigrants much. He’s also jealous that Juan is a better horse tamer. It’s the night before the annual “Purge,” where for 12 hours all crime is allowed thanks to the order of the theocratic New Founding Fathers of America. Dylan isn’t a fan, and Juan and Adela pay to get into a shelter where other migrants ride out the chaos. The night seems to go without a glitch, but once the sun is out Dylan is confronted by a disgruntled worker in dark cowboy gear and other armed comrades. It turns out a national uprising has begun, led by factions under the banner of keeping the Purge eternal, who want to cleanse the land of the rich, immigrants, and whatever else needs cleansing.
“The Forever Purge” is definitely an improvement on the last entry, the absurdly bad “The First Purge,” which was a prequel about the first night the FFA carried out its mandate. It featured a crack addict using syringes for claws and a ruthless drug dealer who tries to save his neighborhood, without renouncing being a crime boss, of course. In terms of pure craft the first “The Purge” from 2013 remains the most intense, with it being mostly set inside the home of a suburban family under siege. But “The Forever Purge” might turn out to be the real guilty pleasure in the Blumhouse series. Writer-creator James DeMonaco brings his creation to an apocalyptic crescendo that feels like Stephen King’s “The Stand” meets a “Mad Max” wannabe. DeMonaco’s script basks in a combo of satire and dialogue that’s too on the nose. When the Tuckers are suddenly surrounded by former ranch hands, now all in black with skull masks, what follows is a speech by the rebel leader about the poor rising up against the rich (“Now you are me, broke”). Will Patton is Mr. Tucker and he brings his usual, friendly vibes to the role, but he’s also stuck with lines that are true but ludicrously written, like, “I know what you mean! This is America! Where the rich get richer off the backs of the poor! Just like what we did to the Native Americans!” DeMonaco is certainly doing it on purpose. You almost want to admire the guy for putting such messages into what he knows is schlock audiences flock to for the violence.
As with the “Purge” TV series, that aired two years ago on USA Network, the directing here is also not too shabby. Everardo Gout, who has mostly done TV work including TNT’s own dystopia “Snowpiercer,” crafts some memorable and stylish images. The Texas town where Juan and Alma live is picturesque but with a water tower featuring the graffiti of an emblem similar to what most white power groups sport. The better action scenes have real suspense, as when Dylan drives a semi and needs to evade rampaging motorcyclists. A lot of the story features action movie clichés, but now given a woke feel. Juan and Adela suddenly reveal they have combat training once the forever purge kicks off, because naturally they were in the anti-cartel “Autodefensas” militias in Mexico. Although it is rather funny how a movie like “The Forever Purge” jumps right into the immigration debate more than other mainstream dramas. Consider how Dylan has to realize he can’t hate on immigrants, now that he needs them to help him and his pregnant wife flee the purgers. DeMonaco writes up fun moments as when Mexico announces it will open its borders for six hours to any Americans fleeing the chaos. We even get aerial shots of all the border traffic now going the other way down south.
Put aside the hilarious dialogue and typical “Purge” moments involving loons in giant bunny heads emerging from dumpsters to kill someone, and ponder how some of “The Forever Purge” is pop fantasy that doesn’t feel too crazy in post-Trump reality. The idea of an actual purge night is of course ludicrous, but militias calling themselves “the real patriots of America,” who hunt down Mexican immigrants and target the “elites” does not feel far-fetched at all. Even the worst sci-fi movies from the Cold War era said something about our national psyche. The same will happen with these “Purge” movies when film historians ponder what we were watching around the time Trumpistas stormed the Capitol. Sadly, as with the other movies in the series, “The Forever Purge” dumps becoming more of a satirical commentary for a final hour of non-stop action. It’s produced with slick visuals, including shots of El Paso, Texas being reduced to a war zone. There’s dark humor in some of the street battles Dylan and his new friends find themselves embroiled in, including a standoff with racists sporting guns decorated with Confederate flags. Plenty of heads explode and throats get slashed, because it is a “Purge” movie after all.
Slightly more satisfying than its peers, “The Forever Purge” won’t make any year-end ten best lists or garner awards. But you know what, within its genre it’s also not a complete bore for viewers who like this kind of dark escapism. It’s trashy but tapped into the times, ludicrous but like many entertaining B-movies, carries a disturbing bit of truth inside its dreary fantasy. The Latino immigrants in the story might be written with a few clichés, but at least they’re the heroes, and by the end, the white rancher joins forces with them against all the madness. So you can fault “The Forever Purge” for being trash, but not completely thoughtless. Even B-movies can be right about certain things, and the final shot of an America map in disarray, with a newscaster’s voice wondering if we will ever be the same, is still far from feeling like total dystopian fiction.
“The Forever Purge” releases July 2 in theaters nationwide.