THE FOREVER PURGE (Everardo Gout). 103 minutes. Some subtitles. Now playing at drive-in theatres around the GTA, and on VOD later in July. Rating: NN
Of all the high-concept horror movies that became indestructible franchises over the decades – your Halloweens, your Saws, your Children Of The Corns – the Purge series might be the strangest.
All James DeMonaco’s 2013 home-invasion thriller really did was take The Strangers’ masked-maniacs conceit and place its protagonist in a context of absolute helplessness: in a near-future America where all crime is legal for one night every year, all you have to defend your family from the mob is your own personal code. DeMonaco kept the focus small and the stakes personal, suggesting a much more terrible world lurking just outside the frame.
And people loved it. Since The Purge left almost everything to the audience’s imagination, that audience demanded more: they wanted to see what the Purge looked like in a big city, so DeMonaco made The Purge: Anarchy, which introduced Frank Grillo as a good cop using that year’s Purge to help some people in need, and gave us a glimpse of how the ruling class used the night to go all Eyes Wide Shut on each other. Next there was The Purge: Election Year, which filled in some of the blanks about how Purge America worked, with Grillo’s Sarge guarding a presidential candidate (Elizabeth Mitchell) determined to unseat the New Founding Fathers Party and put an end to their annual murderfest.
Fun fact: All three of these movies preceded the election of Donald Trump, and it’s genuinely impressive how tightly DeMonaco seems to have had his finger on the pulse of red-state America for the last eight years… to the point that the 2018 prequel, The First Purge, felt almost naive in its depiction of radical right-wing American politicians who worry they might be going too far with the whole “all crime is legal” thing.
Anyway, The Forever Purge is here to get back to business. It’s at least one election cycle after the events of Election Year – meaning this movie takes place in 2045 or later, not that you’d know it from the clothes, the vehicles or the technology – and the NFFP has been re-elected. The Purge is back, baby, and more Purgey than ever… and when morning comes and an insurgency rises across America to make sure the Purge never ends, a handful of folks in a Texas ranch town must overcome their differences and make a run for the Mexican border.
Which is to say that the same thing happens in The Forever Purge that happens in every Purge movie, only this time in daylight. And if that’s what you were hoping to see from a Purge movie, well, this is that one!
Beyond that… well, I don’t have anything to say. Once again, DeMonaco (writing and producing this time, with television veteran Everardo Gout directing) comes right up to the edge of engaging with the concept of his franchise and pivoting to a handful of good people trying to survive the chaos.
This time around, it’s Mexican couple Adela (Ana de la Reguera) and Juan (Tenoch Huerta) and the white ranchers (Josh Lucas, Cassidy Freeman, Leven Rambin) for whom Juan works, and any interesting character details that might be floating around in the first act are abandoned by the middle of the second, when all that matters is running, driving and shooting.
What these films never confront head-on – and paradoxically, the thing that makes them so popular with a certain subset of moviegoers – is the very palpable horror at their core: the likelihood that, given complete freedom from consequence, a lot of people will simply start murdering people they consider to be sufficiently different, and that white folks will inevitably have a larger arsenal than everyone else. The Purge movies always dangle that as a “what if” concept, but it’s really a “yes, and” idea, and that’s what’s truly scary.
What’s also scary, as I mentioned above, is the idea that these films predict the present rather than the future: there’s the whole Trump of it all, of course, but this one speaks directly to the attack on the U.S. Capitol just six months ago: the mob that wants an “Ever After Purge” simply materializes out of nowhere, coordinating across the country in secret and refusing to accept the government’s edict to stand down. It’s the Tea Party metastasizing into QAnon and taking everything and everyone down with it.
That’s the real “yes, and” of The Forever Purge, and once again DeMonaco refuses to consider it. This movie ends the way all the Purge movies end, insisting a country can shake it off and go back to normal after revealing the worst of itself. That’s how movies work, not people.