Director: Everado Valerio Gout
Stars: Ana de la Reguera, Tenoch Huerta, Gregory Zaragoza
James DeMonaco’s Purge franchise lumbers onward. While it predated and has now surpassed the short sorry presidency of Donald Trump, it is the series that feels most laboriously representative of the whirlwind ills that the disgraced orange bile-pod brought to the Oval Office. If this latest iteration serves any purpose at all, it is perhaps as a flagging reminder that Trumpism was never restricted to his time in the White House. By its very nature it existed to install him there in the first place, and while it may not hold the spotlight this minute, it hasn’t vanished into that good night. Remaining vigilant is our collective duty.
The Forever Purge tries to articulate this, in a way, but it’s drowned out in the never-ending rain of gunfire that makes up its second half. I can’t speak for the TV spin-off, but so far DeMonaco’s state-of-the-nation address has manifested as one weak home invasion horror and
three four Escape from New York rip-offs. For all the potency of the conceit… it has yet to produce a film worthy of its core idea. Something virtually unheard of for a franchise now five films deep.
As The First Purge was a prequel to the others, this is the first movie in the timeline since the series’ negligible high-watermark The Purge: Election Year. That film ended with Elizabeth Mitchell’s Senator-turned-President Charlie Roan rescinding the laws that put the annual Purge into place; an event that seems to have been overturned yet again as 12 hours of lawless bloodletting is back on the nation’s To Do list.
Taking a break from the urban carnage of the last few films, The Forever Purge settles us in rural Texas, where friendly racist and Ray McKinnon lookalike Dylan Tucker (Josh Lucas) presides over a ranch tended by illegal Mexican immigrants whom he doesn’t like. The annual Purge comes and goes without incident (except, yknow, the usual)… that is until a splinter group of extremists continue the masked onslaught the following day. Part of a nationwide uprising of insane hard-right yahoos, these Forever Purgers lay waste to the nearby town and half the country. Canada and Mexico open their borders for asylum seekers… but only for six hours.
So, in effect, The Forever Purge plays by the same rules as all the others; pitting a group of crudely sketched survivors against the clock. Dylan is joined by Mexican couple Juan (Tenoch Huerta) and Adela (Ana de la Reguera), as well as a jumble of others from his own family, including his unconvincingly pregnant wife Cassidy (Cassidy Freeman). Together they bail for El Paso, but trouble keeps on finding them.
Any and all exposition is dispensed via flashes to news media, mostly television, and it’s hard to think of another series of recent times that rested so much on this flimsy brand of “by the way” narration. Still, that’s a relatively small niggle in the grand scheme of a film that numbs its audience within 45 minutes and then rudely continues on for an entire hour afterward.
DeMonaco’s subtle-as-a-sledgehammering writing persists and, in director Everado Valerie Gout, he appears to have found another willing disciple to perpetuate his vision of endlessly ugly cinema. When it’s not leering inanely at its murderous antagonists in their stupid masks, The Forever Purge is busy pummeling us with poorly staged shoot outs and impossible-to-follow fisticuffs. Quite how anyone breaks free in an overturned police wagon is a total mystery, yet it’s presented as a key set piece of the second act.
As with The First Purge before it, the best thing about this movie is the opportunity its creators have afforded non-white actors in leading roles. Where that flick showcased a cross-section of Black talent, The Forever Purge flies the same flag for both its aforementioned Hispanic contingent and, in Gregory Zaragoza’s scene-stealing Xavier, it’s Native American brethren also. Having these actors embody action heroes in this exhausting bin fight is, nevertheless, important and aspirational representation.
Perhaps, too, there’s something to be said for how readily The Forever Purge pushes into the gaudy aesthetics of Hobo with a Shotgun once it reaches El Paso. That relatively fringe post-Grindhouse release appears to be increasingly influential on the style of DeMonaco’s persistent series, and it’s low-key bewildering to see it absorbed into the mainstream in this way. That sense of the uncanny might render a ticket worthwhile. Still, while The Forever Purge pilfers from around the edges of Hobo it misses a key aspect by quite some distance – entertain your damned audience. An absolute misery to sit through, if DeMonaco wants his franchise to continue, its time for a major rethink.
And, not for nothing, a reprimand for its crazed killers. I know, I know, that goes against the central conceit but here’s the thing. Now that The Purge has become a commodity, it needs to tow certain studio lines. While the villains here represent right-wing America at its most looney-tunes, they’re also sensationalised and fetishised, presumably in an effort not to alienate that part of the audience. So the whole thing feels confused and weak-willed.
An early (and it is early – sigh) ranch scene tries to redress this a little by de-masking one of it’s monsters, but by the end timidity reasserts itself. As Gout pulls away from the Earth to take in the vastness of a radicalised America at war, the summation of DeMonaco’s assessment becomes a sheepish, “Absolutely fucked it, lads”.