Forever Purge, TheReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 07/01/21 15:45:20
Lord knows that the “Purge” movies have never exactly been famous for their subtlety or nuanced thought but “The Forever Purge,” the fifth installment in the franchise that began with the 2013 surprise hit and which also encompasses a briefly lived television series, goes after viewers with the same kind of brutish intensity that the Purgers—those who participate in the yearly ritual in which all crime (“including murder”) is made legal for a 12-hour period as part of an elaborate plot by government factions to get rid of undesirables by making them targets in the name of making America great again—take towards their hapless victims. At least the Purgers employ some invention when it comes to carrying out their particular tasks (at least one of the kills on display here utilizes the kind of elaborate construction normally reserved for a “Saw” movie. “The Forever Purge,” despite a few minor changes to the now-familiar formula, is more or less the same thing as its predecessors—what I once described as “a mixture of political rhetoric and Marquise de Sade-style violence made by and for people who never passed PolSci 101 and who pronounce “de Sade” in the same manner as the “Smooth Operator” singer.” (Hey, if the filmmakers are going to keep doing the same thing over and over, I should be able to repeat a line or two from my previous critiques as well.)Having painted themselves into a corner at the end of “The Purge: Election Year” with an ending that removed the New Founding Fathers of America (the conservative political faction that instituted the Purge) from power and bringing the Purge to an end (the next film in the franchise, “The First Purge,” was a prequel origin story that revealed that the whole thing was pretty much all Marisa Tomei’s fault), this one begins with a frantic opening credits sequence in which it is revealed that the NFFA have returned to power (no details as to how) and have immediately reinstated the Purge. The scene then shifts to Texas, where we meet the various characters as they prepare for that night’s Purge. There is Adela (Ana de la Reguera) and Juan (Tenoch Huerta), who snuck across the border from Mexico to flee retaliation from the drug cartels they had been fighting. While Adela works at a local meatpacking plant, where she gives assistance to other recent immigrants, Juan is employed at a ranch owned by decent egg patriarch Caleb Tucker (Will Patton) and run by his son, Dylan (Josh Lucas), who seems nice enough on his bland surface (like the rest of his family, he refuses to participate in the Purge) but doesn’t care much for those Mexicans, especially Juan, who inadvertently shows him up one day while trying to tend ti a wild horse.
Dylan, along with his father, his pregnant wife Emma (Cassidy Freeman) and his spunky sister (Leven Rambin) bunker down for the night in their well-fortified home while Adela and Juan ride it out with other immigrants in a space with armed guards to protect them. After the requisite array of mayhem, the siren goes off in the morning signaling the end of the Purge and the cessation of brutalities. This is pretty much how the other films have developed but unlike those episodes, the all-clear signal kicks in not at the end but roughly about 35 minutes in. For a brief moment, I hoped that my dream was going to come true and this would finally be the “Purge” film that would give us a look at the day after, showing us everything from the cleanup of the bodies littering the street to someone having an awkward encounter with the annoying neighbor that they had unsuccessfully tried to bump off the night before.
No such luck. It turns out that Purgers, once again revved up by the violent rhetoric from the NFFA, have decided that there is no sense to just stop with the mayhem when there are still so out there infecting their “real” America, have elected to take the next logical step by continuing the purging until they have slaughtered all of their perceived enemies. Naturally, Adela, Juan and the Tuckers all find themselves on the wrong end of the Forever Purge but manage to band together and survive the initial attacks. Alas, with the madness spreading out of control across the country, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere for them to go until they learn that the Purgeless Mexico and Canada, in a humanitarian gesture, will open their borders for six hours in order to allow American refugees to enter. The group decides to make a frantic run for the border, all the while being chased by white nationalists determined to kill them all.
The previous “Purge” movies have all taken half-assed stabs at political and social commentary—presumably in an attempt to convince viewers that they were smarter than they actually were—but “The Forever Purge” does it in the most overt manner of them all, though the end results are as ineffectual as ever. This time around, the two hot-button issues under examination are immigration and the rise in white supremacist groups who are willingly being stoked into transforming their hate into violent extremes, all in the name of taking back their country from people who don’t look like them. However, much like the other movies, screenwriter James DeMonaco (who has written all the previous films and directed the first two) clearly is under the impression that he is saying something that is much more thought-provoking than it actually is. In regards to the immigration issue and the racial tensions that are an inevitable part of it, the film’s idea of a profound breakthrough is having Dylan gradually realize that Immigrants Are People Too, especially those who end up repeatedly saving the lives of both you and your family.
As for the potentially touchier aspect involving the white supremacists being manipulated by conservative elements, the film doesn’t hesitate to pull its punches by painting them in cartoonish evil terms (one even has swastikas painted on his face) so that they can come across as more anonymous screen maniacs rather than as an embodiment of a very real societal problem, one that burst forth about a half-year ago in ways that put the plot developments of the other films to shame in terms of suspense, horror and sheer disbelief. Of course, this is hardly surprising for a franchise that has always been remarkable hypocritical about what it is trying to accomplish. After all, these are films that are ostensibly attempting to critique the American thirst for violence and the lengths that they will go to in order to satisfy these desires while at the same time absolving themselves from any responsibilities regarding what comes as a result of that, yet have all been sold less on the basis of their allegedly biting satire and more on the promise of seeing people being slaughtered in various grotesque ways. Ordinarily, I might find myself annoyed and disgusted at such a cynical concept but it is hard to level such a change at these films because they are simply too stupid to hold anything resembling a genuine point of view or mindset in the first place.
To be scrupulously fair, there are a couple of ways in which “The Forever Purge” slightly improves on its predecessors. The shift from the nighttime settings and urban battlegrounds of the last few entries for daylight and the wide-open spaces of Texas makes for a welcome visual relief that yields the occasional intriguing sight. As for first-time director Everardo Valerio Gout, he handles the bloody action beats with undeniable technical efficiency, albeit with little discernible personal touch. He has also elected to shoot it all in 1.85 instead of the usual 2.35, which I can only hope will at last keep fans of the films from making ill-advised comparisons to John Carpenter, whose combination of filmmaking skill and political commitment could have done wonders for the entire Purge concept if he went to work on it.Other than that, “The Forever Purge” is just as junky and dunderheaded as its predecessors, especially in the moments when it is trying to convince you of how smart and thought-provoking it thinks itself to be. By the time it finally ends, even fans of the series (I have to assume that such people really exist) may find themselves thinking that the whole Purge concept now needs to either be radically overhauled or brought to a long-overdue end.
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