The Purge franchise is a dilettante’s view of American politics. It’s the guy who notices a CNN chyron or a tweet and considers that being informed enough to have an opinion on the politics of the day, which is basically something along the lines of class and racial warfare being exacerbated by powerful interests who want to keep us at each other throats so they can remain in power. And in the broadest strokes possible, that’s technically true, but it also ignores large swaths of socioeconomic, historical, commercial, and ethnic elements that The Purge franchise has never been entirely comfortable with exploring. And so with its latest installment, The Forever Purge, you have pretty much the same old song where there’s nods to acrimony between nativist and minority populations but with heroes and villains always drawn from stereotypes so that there’s never any confusion about where the copious amounts of violence should be directed.
Set near the Mexican-American border in a small Texas town, undocumented immigrants Juan (Tenoch Huerta) and Adela (Ana de la Reguera) are working hard as a rancher and meatpacker, respectively, while they’re eyed with suspicious by Dylan Tucker (Josh Lucas), the son of Juan’s boss, Caleb (Will Patton). Meanwhile, the Purge—a 12-hour period where pretty much all crime is legal—has been reinstated when the New Founding Fathers come back into power following a period of social strife that’s quickly exposited during the opening credits. The Purge comes with Juan and Adela sitting it out with their fellow immigrants and the Tuckers rest in comfort, and then it seems to be over. Except, there’s now a group called “Ever After” that doesn’t want to stop purging, and as violence breaks out across the country, Juan, Adela, and the Tuckers must band together to survive a Purge with no end in sight.
As always, there’s a hint here of some deeper commentary, but The Purge movies (or at least the ones I’ve seen, so the first, second, and now Forever Purge) always seem to forego nuance and detail, so it’s easier to flatten everyone out to where there are clearly racist people, those racist people are usually wealthy, and they’re bad because they can either purge with impunity or they have the resources to stay safe during a purge. What makes The Forever Purge frustrating is that James DeMonaco’s script doesn’t seem to have any desire to probe deeper. So if you have a rampaging band of marauders who are screaming about “taking their country back”, where does that idea come from? Is it simply tribalism? And are the people espousing these viewpoints people like an angry redneck and a dude with a swastika tattooed on his face or are they closer to home? For a series that has one foot in horror, The Forever Purge never really wants to unnerve its audience with anything more than a jump scare. Its ideas about America remain firmly inchoate and facile.
The one character who lives in a grey area, Dylan, gets a whole little scene where he explains to Juan that he’s not racist. “I don’t think white people are any better or worse than anyone else,” and explains that he thinks cultures don’t mix, which is an interesting starting point for someone who sees himself as an American when America is the noted “melting pot” of the world. But The Forever Purge never interrogates this position or uses it as anything more as a cue to the audience that Dylan is more of an isolationist than a racist, so please don’t feel bad when you need to root for him. For The Forever Purge, our political polarization and strife is a simple springboard for “And then things get violent.”
And that violence gets tedious after a while as well as hypocritical. The whole point of why the Purge is supposed to be terrifying is that you’ve let people indulge in their violent fantasies without repercussions. Except The Purge movies don’t really think violence is bad as much as it simply needs to be properly directed. If you have people purging and a bunch of good people get killed, that’s bad, but if you have a bunch of good guys slaughtering bad guys, then violence is good! Sure, it’s an action-horror movie and audiences want to have their bloodlust sated, but I genuinely could not tell you what the ethos of these movies are beyond some kind of weird bit of escapism that allows for violent anarchy. In a weird way, The Purge franchise, and certainly The Forever Purge, is a way of envisioning what a Second Civil War would look like without doing the legwork of the emotional toll such a conflict would take.
I suppose you could argue that I’m taking The Purge series too seriously, and that these movies are really about setting up a thin premise for violent mayhem where good people fight psychopaths in fancy masks. But as The Forever Purge shows, these films want credit for their political commentary, and it’s not my fault that commentary crumbles immediately if you so much as tap on it. I wish these films had more ambition than CNN Headline + R-Rated Violence = Movie, but they don’t.
Bravo’s direction explodes with personality, but never becomes enamored of its own style or vivacity.
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