Film Review – The Forever Purge
The Forever Purge
The entire Purge series has rested on one central idea: What would happen if, for a single night, all crime were made legal? The argument is that many people, if allowed to get away with murder, theft, vandalism, arson, etc., would gleefully participate to release their pent-up anger and frustrations. Committing heinous acts would be a form of catharsis. This argument is flawed, of course, because violence and mayhem does not lead to peace but to oppression. Evil breeds despair, not civility.
To his credit, James DeMonaco – who has spearheaded the franchise since the beginning – has touched upon this concept with every sequel since The Purge (2013). He doesn’t hide the politicism but pushes it into the spotlight. This is a universe of the haves and have nots, with the wealthy (often white people) sheltered away in impenetrable safe houses during the annual purge. Those without wealth (often people of color) are left to fend for themselves against deranged killers. But while drawing emphasis on real world problems is commendable, the themes of the franchise get muddled under the clunkiness of the storytelling. Sure, the Purge may point out important social issues, but does it really have anything of value to say about them?
The Forever Purge (2021) attempts to flip the script by doing away with the whole structure. Instead of condensing the brutality to a single night per year, a group of lawless rebels decide that the purge should not end at daybreak. They take matters into their own hands, killing anyone they deem “undesirable.” DeMonaco returns as scriptwriter (with Everardo Gout as director) crafting the story around immigration. We meet married couple Juan (Tenoch Huerta) and Adela (Ana de la Reguera), Mexican immigrants who have come to Texas looking for a better life. Adela works as a chef, Juan an employee for rancher Dylan Tucker (Josh Lucas).
Early on, the writing and direction does a nice job of establishing the contrast between Juan and Adela compared to Dylan and his family. They all want to get through purge night, but they do it differently based on class. Where Dylan has the means and technology to remain in his own home, Juan and Adela must travel by bus to a central location cramped with other people. Both ways appear to have worked, as they all get through the night without harm. That is, until they step outside and come face to face with those who aren’t playing by the rules. Juan, Adela, Dylan, Dylan’s pregnant wife Emma (Cassidy Freeman) along with a few others must now band together and search for refuge before getting overrun by the rebels.
The dynamic amongst this group shows how the production wants to be topical but mishandles the execution. Juan and Adela face constant racism while trying to make their way as “dreamers.” Dylan and his family come from privilege, propped up by a society that rewards them for their whiteness. In a revealing exchange with Juan, Dylan states how he believes everyone should be separated. Yet the narrative wants us to buy that they are now all on equal footing because of the rebels’ killing spree. The allegory doesn’t work. Race relations are a little more complicated than that – I don’t think they are as easily solved as the film would suggest.
The Forever Purge is an overly hyperactive movie. The editing has a jittery, unstable style. The action and horror scenes are so chopped up that it was difficult to discern what was happening. A set piece inside of an abandoned cabin has a cut almost every other second, with the camera shaking as though it were on a caffeine high. It obstructs our view of the scene’s choreography. It’s all energy with no coherence – images without flow. I’d like to say that this only happens during this scene, but I’d be lying.
The combination of social commentary and the horror genre never truly coalesce well enough to feel substantial. In an early scene, we watch Adela walking along the street, passing by gun stores with signs showing a limited time “Purge Discount.” While the scene will immediately have us thinking about the gun culture of this country, there isn’t a point of view presented. What is the production trying to get across? Yes, America has a long (and tragic) obsession with firearms, but that’s well known. To simply point out the existence of a problem is not enough. There isn’t an answer to the question, “Why are we seeing this now?”
Above all else, The Forever Purge is just bland and lifeless. While I am certainly no fan of the first entry, there was a novelty about it that led directly to its staying power as a franchise. Eight years later and that spark of inspiration has simmered down, settling for the same old routine. The shots of people dressed up in scary masks have gone from unnerving to hilarious, and the attempts to parallel the stories to real life has lost its steam. My biggest relief is that I’ll never have to think about this movie once I finish writing this sentence.