‘The Forever Purge’ Takes Aim at White Nationalists and Trump’s Border Hysteria
The fifth and final entry in the “Purge” horror movie franchise is perhaps its most politically preachy one yet.
Few franchises have squandered a fertile premise quite as thoroughly as The Purge, which over four installments—The Purge, The Purge Anarchy, The Purge: Election Year, and The First Purge, not to mention the short-lived TV series—has increasingly veered away from nightmarish horror and toward leaden, action-oriented political preaching. The Forever Purge, the fifth chapter in the unkillable series (in theaters July 2), doesn’t, in most respects, right that wayward course, telling a pointed immigration-fixated story that once again takes itself far too seriously. Nonetheless, there are flashes of gonzo inspiration in this hyper-violent saga, most of them having to do with the apocalyptic white-nationalist fantasies that drive today’s right-wingers.
Written by Purge creator James DeMonaco, who hands the directorial reigns over to Everardo Gout, The Forever Purge trains its eye on the Texas border, which Mexican immigrants Adela (Ana de la Reguera) and Juan (Tenoch Huerta) cross via an underground tunnel, led by a young guide who provides the first of the film’s many cheap jump scares. Ten months later, Adela is thriving at a meat-packing plant and Juan is a veritable horse whisperer on the ranch of Caleb Tucker (Will Patton), much to the seething resentment of Caleb’s heir Dylan (Josh Lucas), who’s shown up by Juan when trying to break a bucking bronco. “Your son doesn’t like me because I’m Mexican,” Juan tells Caleb shortly thereafter, articulating a dynamic which is so obvious, the line comes across as laughably unnecessary. That’s in keeping with virtually all of the dialogue in DeMonaco’s script, which subsequently has Juan directly confront Dylan about his intolerance, to which Dylan explains that he doesn’t hate Mexicans, he just thinks that people should stick with their own kind.
Dylan’s separate-but-equal speech is supposed to make him a more palatable cowboy. The gesture doesn’t really work, but it’s of little consequence, since The Forever Purge ensures that audiences recognize that the real bad guys in this alter-America are angry white militia dudes. Given that the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) have reinstituted the Purge—a night of lawlessness in which any and all crimes go—everyone takes cover during the “holiday.” When dawn breaks, they all breathe a sigh of relief. Alas, the mayhem has only just begun, because a new movement called the “Ever After Purge” has decided that 12 hours of carnage isn’t enough. Instead, they think the bloody festivities should continue until the nation is “purified” of all those that don’t fit into their psychotic plans for the United States.
This is bad news for Juan, Adela, and their friend (Alejandro Edda), who are slandered by their neo-Nazi enemies as “brownies.” But it also spells trouble for Dylan, his pregnant wife Emma Kate (Cassidy Freeman), his sister (Leven Rambin), and his dad, who are quickly preyed upon by a disgruntled ranch hand who wants to upend the rich-poor status quo and confiscate the Tuckers’ wealth for himself. The notion that white-nationalist red-staters are primarily motivated by economic concerns—rather than by their hatred of the “other”—is more than a bit debatable. Wisely, however, The Forever Purge soon sets that suggestion aside for a larger portrait of an America splitting at the seams. Forced to band together to survive, Dylan, Adela, Juan and their comrades take flight through a Texas on fire, and the vision conjured by DeMonaco and Gout is that of a country living out its January 6-style insurrectionist dreams to their fullest.
In that regard, The Forever Purge uses its out-there conceit to imagine the extreme costs of allowing hateful, traitorous madness to run amok. Gout’s film is situated in the sort of warped Wild West that the Proud Boys and Three Percenters lustfully covet. In the process, it playfully and persuasively forwards the idea that once that Pandora’s Box is opened, the end result is inexorable calamity. It’s a scenario that feels razor-sharp, and proves most energized during the proceedings’ middle passages, when its ragtag characters are forced to shut their mouths and make their way through rural and urban streets littered with corpses, plastered with fascistic insignias (the Ever After Purgers favor a logo involving triangles and a skull), and stained in crimson.
Unfortunately, The Forever Purge doesn’t keep its protagonists quiet long enough, having them make so many groan-worthy pronouncements that it’s difficult not to feel hectored. Rather than letting its action do the talking, the film has Adela and Juan converse about the melting pot and American Dream; compels Caleb to admit that whites stole their land from its original indigenous owners; and has a Native American TV talking head (Zahn McClarnon) state, in reference to taking up arms against homicidal Caucasians, “I’ve been fighting this fight for 500 years!” Every time such on-the-nose corniness rears its head, which is far too often, the material’s schlocky electricity gets dampened, exacerbated by lead performances (especially from Huerta) that are wooden beyond repair.
See-sawing between keen lunacy and dreary evangelizing is a familiar Purge problem, and it’s no different here, as The Forever Purge goes from amusingly mocking Ever After Purgers as creepy incestuous weirdos (one killer keeps referring to his young wife as “Mother,” in an apparent nod to Mike Pence) and dully upending social paradigms by casting itself as a Latino-savior tale in which Adela and Juan’s border-crossing skills grant Dylan and his clan the liberation they seek—and which, ostensibly, they’d otherwise deny their south-of-the-border refugee compatriots. The latter point comes to the fore thanks to a climactic twist involving El Paso falling so catastrophically to the Ever After Purgers that Americans are advised to flee to Mexico and Canada. Yet the film doesn’t do much with that cheeky turn of events, merely employing it as the catalyst for some limp skirmishes, shootouts, and race-against-time suspense.
DeMonaco’s determination to keep indulging his most moralizing impulses serves The Forever Purge poorly, as does a shortage of exploitation-cinema gnarliness and a dearth of the creatively menacing masks that have always been the series’ trademark. Still, even in light of such shortcomings, The Forever Purge is just incendiary enough to suggest that, though it must inevitably come to a close, the franchise hasn’t yet run out of gas.