The Forever Purge (2021)

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Directed by Everardo Gout

There’s an old joke that if elections changed anything they’d be illegal. In The Purge universe, it’s more than just a witty remark. After the American public voted to stop the titular tradition, at the end of the third entry, they’re back at it again already. An exposition drop at the start tells us the NFFA has been returned to office, and things are back to normal. I’m sure you know the drill by now: the sirens go off, and for twelve hours, all crime is legal. But what happens when that time is up, and the people want to keep on going?

It’s insurrection time as a militant white supremacist group, adopting the iconography of the old West, set out to “purify” their country. We follow two groups through the chaos: Mexican husband and wife Juan (Huerta) and Adela (Ana de la Reguera), who entered America under the wall – for some reason thinking Purge-era America would be a good place to live. And the all-American Tuckers: Caleb (Patton), his anti-immigrant son Dylan (Josh Lucas), Dylan’s pregnant wife Cassie (Freeman) and his sister Harper (Rambin). They end up pulling together to evade the violence and, in an ironic subversion of US nationalism, race for safety across the Mexican border.

It’s an undoubtedly provocative premise that’s only become more relevant with the delay in release date. Though The Forever Purge was written and made long before the attempted insurrection of the US Capitol, it is difficult not to see the movie through this lens. A state of the nation dystopia about a mob determined to overthrow the very institutions which empowered them. Trump may be gone, but what he stood for hasn’t – so the premise of a charismatic, wall-building, anti-immigrant leader exploiting economic anxiety still seems pertinent. It’s a film that laments what America should be, what it’s meant to be: a land of opportunity where everyone gets on and reaches their true potential, and where their value is determined not by their background but by who they are. Ironically, it’s here the film suffers. The broad and shallow characters come across as avatars for the movie’s anti-prejudice message rather than rounded individuals in their own right.

For a film about seeing past stereotypes, it’s unfortunate that their distance from power largely defines the main parts: the Mexicans are virtuous in their victimhood and most of the white Americans are explored as the summation of their vices – that is except for Caleb who acts as a voice for DeMonaco. Except for Adela, whose shooting ability is predictably explained as a function of her growing up around gangs, we don’t get much context for any of them, and what little arcs we have are streamlined. However, I did quite like seeing how some of the relationships changed, particularly Juan and Dylan, even if you can tell their trajectory from early on. It’s not the actors’ fault: arguably, the cast overperforms with the limited parts they are given, making some of DeMonaco’s signature sledgehammer dialogue sound almost plausible. Though this is a film more concerned with escalating a situation than exploring the characters in it. Many will scoff at its simplicity and scenes, such as the Tucker family patriarch warning the Purgers that they are doing the elite’s work for them. Likewise, hearing one of the Purgers rant like JD Vance with a weapon. Still, I almost admire it for its boldness. Even if its lofty attempts to diagnose the country’s ills mean, as per the rest of its franchise, The Forever Purge is tonally confused.

To be fair, the balance is probably better here than any other entry: a silly Saw style trap aside, the violence is rarely just fun, and most of the running and gunning is played for suspense rather than balls to the wall action. When pockets of violence break out after the sirens, the buildup is unnerving and the moment when all hell breaks loose – with the first post-Purge kill is inspired. A night chase through El Paso is also undeniably thrilling, and though the finale lacks either scale or personal stakes, it’s emotionally satisfying. However, when he gets the chance to do Mad Max, series newcomer Gout can’t help himself, and it’s all heavy metal tracks and cool gunplay. The same tired iconography – punk versions of American standards – is still there too. And for a large portion of the audience who want another Anarchy, the exploitation homages are exactly what they want rather than the constant politicking. Yet to me, the dual aims work against each other. One the one hand, it’s too self-important and didactic for those looking for escapism – on the other, it’s too dumb a vehicle for the point it’s trying to make.

Perhaps it’s unreasonable to expect anything different after five films and two seasons of a TV show. There’s been some maturation with time, but The Purge has established a clear formula for better or worse. On that, The Forever Purge was planned as a finale to the series, and if it is, then the final shots are pretty apt. Still, there’s already talk of further sequels and I wouldn’t be surprised if, like its namesake, the movies come back for more. It is, after all, an American tradition. There’s plenty of world-building to be done too. The elites have stayed shadowy, and we are yet to experience a Purger’s perspective outside a single subplot in the show. Perhaps DeMonaco may finally commit to the idea’s comedic potential. Whether this happens or not, I don’t know – it depends if there’s still interest. Studios will tend to make what there’s a market for, and cinemagoers will vote with their wallets.

Rating: ★★★½☆

About david.s.smith 422 Articles
Scottish horror fan who is simultaneously elitist and hates genre snobbery. Follow me on @horrorinatweet

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