Five films and a TV series is a lot to milk from The Purge — a splatter-heavy slab of sociologically speculative fiction about an America that flourishes in public safety and gainful employment thanks to Purge Night, an annual 12-hour free-for-all where all crime is legal.
In 2013, the first film intelligently exploded the impetus behind this Milgram experiment: If you were temporarily allowed and even encouraged to do so by your government, would you scratch your itch to kill? Of course, the Purge is but a political smokescreen for predatory capitalism that culls ethnic minorities and the poor. 2014’s Anarchy and 2016’s Election Year provided pulp-fiction proof of the first film’s malevolent math.
Election Year justly characterized the New Founding Fathers of America (“Purge” for “Republicans”) as hypocrites cloaking cowardly behavior in a tight swaddle of Pentecostal fervor. Ending with the election of a Purge-opposing POTUS to office in the year 2040, it also reached a natural narrative endpoint.
Although loathe to shelve the idea in an era of “Oh Shit, What?!,” subsequent Purge productions have failed to offer much meaty engagement with how real life might teeter ever closer to anarchy. 2018’s prequel, The First Purge mostly served as a long-form loss-leader for a USA TV series that lasted all of two seasons. The Forever Purge, in theaters tomorrow, is the franchise’s least flavorful foray yet, imagining a scenario where insurrectionists decide the Purge need not stop when the government insists.
So in other words, just … crime?
Set in either 2045 or 2049, The Forever Purge finds the NFFA back in the saddle again. Like tax cuts for the rich or increased military spending, the Purge is now just another hopped-up hydra-head idea that the latest generation of craven conservative ghouls trots out. So in an announcement that “the national holiday celebrating our American freedom is finally back,” the NFFA reinstates Purge Night, which we see unfold here in small-town Texas.
Adela (Ana de la Reguera) and Juan (Tenoch Huerta) have fled Mexican cartel violence and respectively found employment at a meat-packing plant and the Tucker ranch. Juan’s horse-whispering skills have endeared him to patriarch Caleb Tucker (Will Patton, able to do a lot with a little). But that has enabled no small amount of prideful anger in family scion Dylan (Josh Lucas). Adela, Juan and the Tuckers are all able to ride out Purge Night behind well-fortified walls. But what they see by the dawn’s early light is Purgers proudly bringing hell.
Branding themselves Ever-After Purgers, they’ve decided the carnage should continue — especially if they can corral minorities into their Purge Purification truck, a rolling gas chamber. (“We will find you and we will disinfect you,” one of them shouts.) One Purger with a swastika face tattoo practically ejaculates to a cacophony of bullet fire around him. There are also many diegetic screams of “Ever After!” and “Forever Purge!” A few Purgers take shotgun blasts to the nuts. The dialogue is generally this: “Fuck you, redneck!” “Fuck you, pig!” “No, fuck you, bitch!”
Mexico and Canada have opened their borders to Americans seeking amnesty from this anarchy, but only for six hours. So if Juan, Adela and the Tuckers (including Dylan’s very pregnant wife) are to make it, they’ve got to set aside animosity and fight as one. Or to paraphrase Lucas’s signature Home Depot pitchman line: More slaying, more surviving.
Shuffled around the schedule like many other films, The Forever Purge achieves a now-accidental analog to January’s U.S. Capitol attack and the idea that, gee, perhaps fomenting white nationalism, conspiratorial nonsense and gun-culture glorification may backfire. It might have felt more chilling had its plotline simply erupted from residual rage of residents denied their Purge rather than a rejection of those they put in power. But as its storytelling sting goes, the franchise has hit the same stranger-than-fiction problem as VEEP in its later seasons.
Set that aside, and all that’s left is grindhouse expediency. At least Purge architect James De Monaco has stepped out of the director’s chair, opening a seat for a filmmaker of color here as he did in The First Purge. Everardo Valerio Gout exhibits considerable chops during a Children of Men-ish moment in El Paso and in a dusty last stand at the Mexican border. Plus, he orchestrates what might be the least cynical conclusion for any of these, insisting that any nation unwilling to embrace multiculturalism in a meaningful way deserves to burn itself out.
Otherwise, what happens when violent, scapegoating hillbillies stop Purging politely and start weaponizing a party’s own horrible rhetoric against them? The creative exhaustion of a once-engaging franchise.