Though not the highest-profile franchise in the universe, each Purge movie has made more money than the last, so it was inevitable that (despite a short-lived TV spinoff getting its plug pulled two years ago) there would be a fifth one. The Forever Purge was originally intended to be released last July, but wound up one of many films delayed by COVID shutdowns. So instead, it’s arrived six months after the Capitol Riot—an event the filmmakers could not have predicted when they shot it in 2019. Of course, the realities of the Trump presidency had already made the series’ vision of a violently divided near-future under a thinly veiled fascist government regime seem a whole lot less fanciful than it did when The Purge #1 appeared in 2013.
The Forever Purge is not subtle, but then we are not living in gently-nuanced cultural times. It’s probably the best in the series since 2014’s The Purge: Anarchy, though every entry has had a degree of indicting-cautionary political critique that’s pretty distinctive these days for a popcorn action-thriller franchise on the cusp of horror. Yes, right-wingers may feel targeted by this series. And yes, its agenda can be blunt enough that you could call it “liberal propaganda,” in that its viewpoint is middle-of-the-road liberal (also known by hysterics as “socialist”) and it does seek to use mainstream entertainment to impart a message.
But is it unfair? The armed, angry, venom-spewing goons targeting immigrants, ESL speakers, and anyone who doesn’t “look right” to them in this Purge, like the prior ones, seem particularly alarming now because they behave just like the US Capitol-storming mob did six months ago. A release delay turned The Forever Purge from an eerie anticipation of real-life insurrection to a replay of it.
The last chapter, 2018’s The First Purge, put Black people front and center. It did so by means revealing that the titular annual fictive free-for-all—in which citizens are “allowed” to commit any and every crime without consequence for one night, including murder—was covertly conceived from the start by the very Trumpian-meets-Handmaid’s Tale ruling party NFFA (New Founding Fathers of America) to “cleanse” society of the unwanted poor and ethnic minorities. Forever shifts emphasis to Latinx people, beginning as 30-ish couple Adela (Ana de la Reguera) and Juan (Tenoch Huerta) are sneaked under a section of Mexico-Texas border wall by coyotes. (We only find out some time later that they were forced to emigrate, being marked for death by drug cartels they’d agitated against.)
Ten months later, they have done all right for themselves, between her supervisory job at a meatpacking plant, and his as a horse trainer working for wealthy rancher Caleb Tucker (Will Patton). The latter’s son Dylan (Josh Lucas) gives Juan attitude, not just cuz he’s wee tad racist, but because his pride is bruised by the immigrant’s undeniably superior horse-whispering skills. But soon life—and the immediate threat of death—will override such petty squabbling for both men, and their loved ones.
When the controversial but “popular” Purge arrives (beyond letting off collective steam, it’s believed to keep the rest of the year relatively crime-free), the Tuckers and others who can, retreat behind their heavy metal gates and alarm systems. Those less privileged, like most of this rural area’s non-white populace, gather in a temporary bunker secured by paid guards. Those hapless, reckless, or bloodthirsty enough to remain at liberty basically slaughter one another from dusk to dawn.
At Forever’s half-hour mark, the Purge is officially over. Everyone breaths a sigh of relief at having survived it, then goes back to their daily working lives as usual. Except this time, it isn’t over. Masked “patriots” who seem a whole lot like white-supremacist militia types have apparently coordinated an extension of the blood holiday, deliberately destroying communities’ power grids, overwhelming police and military with anarchistic violence aimed at overthrowing the government whole—or, well, er, something. These trigger-happy yokels don’t really seem to have a clear end-goal so much as a desire to destroy everything in their path. Soon thus imperiled are not only Adela and Juan (being Brown), but also the Tuckers (being rich)—those two camps suddenly forced to run for their lives from the alleged societal purification some really awful people think they’re performing to save America.
Written by the series creator James DeMonaco (who directed the first three films), Forever has moments of fairly heavy-handed messaging, and ironies even the dimmest Proud Boy couldn’t miss—like the fact that our protagonists end up frantically trying to escape violence by fleeing to Mexico. Oh, that notion alone is gonna make a few conservative pundits have a wee coronary of theatrical outrage. But if this movie cannot be accused of light-footedness, it nonetheless works admirably well as a pulse-raising thriller. The cast is very good, director Everardo Gout (who’s previously worked mostly on episodic TV) maintains a breakneck yet credible pace, and there are some very satisfying bad-guy thwartings. This may be disposable commercial action fodder, but it’s of an above-average grade.
And again, you can’t dismiss the disturbing relevance here: In just eight short years, the Purge series’ imaginative leaps have grown lamentably much, much closer to our actual (or at least threatened) political reality. We may not have sanctioned murderous chaos on the streets yet, but how willing has the GOP already grown to accommodate extremists in its base who advocate just that?
The Forever Purge is currently playing theaters throughout the Bay Area.