So, the Purge has always been kind of a dumb idea, right? Crime is bad because its effects stick around after the deed is done. The entire concept of giving everyone a night to be their worst selves without legal consequence is itself psychotic to the point that it stretches believability, which is probably why the Purge franchise has never been taken very seriously by either audiences or critics.
On its face, the Purge is an attempted commentary on how far the human impulse toward violence and chaos can take people in a society without some common agreement of order. This is typically pretty silly, as it usually just results in a loose plot strung together by generic home invasion-type scenes that just rely on motiveless crayzee nutsos to dole out the violence, like any other slasher flick.
This formula shifted a little in The First Purge, which was the first in the franchise to follow through on the logic that the Purge is a very, very stupid idea and couldn’t have been introduced without some kind of ulterior motive. People aren’t naturally bloodthirsty enough for the Purge to be very dangerous, posits The First Purge. Crime is a matter of complicated socioeconomic factors and the various privileges afforded some and denied others, and cold murder requires another kind of evil entirely. That’s pretty radical for a $13 mil. stoner thriller.
But oh, wait. I’m here to talk about The Forever Purge. The reason I bring up The First Purge is because this franchise has always been so weighed down by its blunt-as-a-sledgehammer premise and so-so filmmaking that I completely forgot until the middle of reasonably enjoying the fifth (and apparently final) movie that the fourth one was actually pretty cool too. I worry that the automatic eyeroll with which I think most people respond to the Purge franchise might enforce a similar kind of amnesia and keep people from seeing the genuinely unnerving timeliness of The Forever Purge, or forget it as soon as the credits start rolling.
In this Purge we’re in south Texas, near El Paso, and our protagonists are a pair of recent Mexican immigrants (Ana de la Reguera and a very convincing Tenoch Huerta) and their rich white rancher bosses. The year’s Purge comes and goes, and all seems well until it becomes clear that fascist activists all over the country, spurred on by the right-wing political party that endorses and introduced the Purge, have decided that the Purge should never end, using it to kick off a nationwide white supremacist coup.
The Purge is an inherently political story, so I’m going to talk some politics now. The First Purge was written, filmed, and completed by summer of last year, long before the election or subsequent events. So it’s a little spooky to see what is essentially the January 6th Capitol riot exaggerated onscreen: a bunch of hiveminded fascists cosplaying as revolutionaries, encouraged and underestimated by a political party that has spent years telling those same people that their identities are in grave danger even though theirs has—and has always had—the most power at any given time.
The Purge was invented by a parody of right-wing America, a political party that thinks the way we define crime should have less to do with protecting human life or happiness than with protecting power. The Purge isn’t the spiritual release it’s sold as—it’s an opportunity to realign the country to a might-makes-right social structure. The strong and psychotic get to kill and steal from the weak and morally conflicted every 365 days, and in doing so, slowly redefine who retains power. Getting what you think you deserve is so much easier without all those pesky laws getting in the way. The Forever Purgers claim to be defending America, but their vision of what that means doesn’t appear to value anything kind or good, letalone civilized. One gets the creeping feeling that certain militia and conspiracist types in real life might think the Purge is a pretty good idea. You know. A good day to “do what needs to be done.”
But a movie only gets to be philosophical if it tells a successful story on its own terms. Does The Forever Purge do that? I don’t know. Sometimes. Watching these people try to flee to the border amidst the chaos of a true revolution has some genuinely tense moments, even if the only real character arc involves yet another white man having to learn that racism is bad, actually. The action feels appropriately dangerous, though it’s sometimes hard to make sense of in the muddy shaky-cam and close-up cuts (stretching that shoestring budget).
But. This is the first Purge movie to fall just this side of realistic. The stuff that happens in this movie happens in other countries, and we’re as close as we’ve ever been to similar things happening here. The Purge franchise, as B-movie exploitation, is easy to ignore. On the other hand, extreme times might call for extremely ridiculous storytelling.
6/10. 2 for kickass southwest-apocalypse costume design, 2 for all the ass that physically gets kicked. 2 for telling the future.