I’m just going to say it. THE FOREVER PURGE is one of the best films of the entire series. It’s tight, focused, and it does away with a lot of the extraneous myth-making scenes that many of the previous incarnations have spent much more time on. James DeMonaco has constructed a smart and brutal framework on which to drape the story and the real meaning of the series which isn’t really being hidden at all. The series has always been a trojan horse of exploitation horror. The lure is always watching ordinary people (in glow-in-the-dark masks and intricate costumes) go on a 12-hour killing spree. Does the whole mask and costume show make any sense? No, from a logical standpoint, why bother wearing masks or costumes that are hard to breathe, see, and move in when you’re trying to commit mass murder while cruising around city streets especially when you already know that every crime you commit is legal anyway? As in The Purge: Anarchy, you could make Frank Grillo mad and want revenge, but okay, just avoid him next year or kill him too. But I digress.
The idea behind The Purge is gloriously loony and unrealistic, but that’s what makes it so brilliant. I read that the idea came from a road rage incident where De Monaco and his wife were nearly killed which is terrifying. Its brilliance is rooted in the fact that it understands that human beings have a core of violence inside them that’s just waiting for the right circumstances to surface. While watching a Purge film, you can enjoy the catharsis of watching the killers ferociously butcher other helpless people in cold blood and watching the heroes fight bravely to destroy the killers whose handiwork you were vicariously enjoying. The film faces you and says, here’s the candy that you know you want. In this way, it is kind of critical of film violence too. It is basically having its cake and eating it too, a rare feat. Despite these facts, the series is essentially an extremely moral political polemic, even though it might not seem like it is, and an examination of human nature and violence.
Adela (Ana de la Reguera) and Juan (Tenocha Huerta) cross the United States border from Mexico in search of a better life. They succeed and later both have gotten jobs and are trying to adjust to life in the United States. While there is some friction with the boss’s son at the ranch where Juan works, life is pretty good. Purge Night comes and goes and things seem to go back to normal, if normal is watching workers hose blood off of buildings and going to work where most of your crew hasn’t shown up. Even in daylight, Adela and Juan soon find that the Purge is not over and none of the rules the New Founding Fathers set up apply any longer. They must find a way to survive in a world where the Purge never ends.
The film also stars Josh Lucas (Dylan Tucker), Cassidy Freeman (Emma Kate Tucker), Leven Rambin, Alejandro Edda, and Will Patton (Caleb Tucker). The ensemble is well cast and the actors play off each other and relate to each other wonderfully. Sammi Rotibi (Darius) and Gregory Zaragosa (Xavier) make great impressions in their roles as well. In the villain roster, Joshua Dov (Dalton Levay), Jeffrey Doornbos (Elijah), and Edward Gelhaus (Guy with the Swastika Tattoo On His Face) are all completely believable and frightening as racist killers who have a mission. Sarah Domeier Lindo and Terry Taylor have done their work very well.
Everardo Gout has done an excellent job of keeping the action moving and setting up scares and setpieces that create a consistently tension-filled film. As I have said before, this film largely jettisons most of the cartoonish horror elements in favor of a more realistic version of fright. The jump scares are good and there’s a plan that makes the idea of the basic jump-scare work even better later on. I’ll keep my mouth shut so as not to spoil the surprise, but the way that Gout has subverted and deployed the jump scares throughout is strategic and deft. He’s gotten fantastic performances out of the actors. You like the heroes and you can understand the villains. There are no cartoons in this Purge.
There are a few things that make me really want to stand up and cheer about this film. One is that it is an American film with Mexican lead characters that are actually played by Mexican actors with a Mexican director at the helm. It’s incredible to see that. One small thing that bugs me is that Tenoch Huerta’s beautifully realized character is named Juan and it’s a small disappointment since Ana de la Reguera’s character thankfully has a name other than the standard Maria as Adela, but it’s a small gripe and yes, there are Mexicans named Juan. They are unquestionably the lead characters and the white Tucker family gets their butts saved by their Mexican employees, but at no point are any of the three Mexican leads subservient to the Tuckers or anyone else. They are not brown saviors either. They are just good people trying to do the right thing and survive and it’s a real pleasure to see that they are not walking stereotypes. This film is a much better use of Ana de la Reguera’s talents than Army Of The Dead, but I’m still glad that she’s in both movies. It’s admirable and seems like a progression in the series that while De Monaco has written all of the installments, in the last two films, actors and directors of color have been in charge of the interpretation of the story.
The film’s themes are not really that subtle, but as current events have proven, the time for subtlety is probably over. I am a bit haunted by some of the similarities in the story to our current world. THE FOREVER PURGE was filmed mostly in 2019 and wrapped in early 2020. Obviously, most of the MAGA nightmare had already occurred by 2020, but the film seems a bit prophetic. De Monaco has been increasingly adding notes of unease by featuring imagery of racists with each film. The first Purge film was pretty standard and even a bit multi-ethnic with its villains. The Purge: Anarchy mostly framed the evil as coming from wealthy people who want to murder the poor and the NFFA. It was still more of a class struggle, but remember that class struggle is also frequently, but not exclusively, an ethnic struggle. It wasn’t until The Purge: Election Year that the political angle became the real focus as the NFFA went up against a woman running for President who was determined to put an end to their night of murder. Both films had people of color as supporting characters, but it wasn’t until The First Purge that the lead characters were Black and the film was directed by a Black man Gerard McMurray. Amid the “social experiment” or trial version of the Purge that the New Founding Fathers started on Staten Island, you could see the perspective of the film franchise start to change and become more specific. The NFFA’s attempts to ramp up the violence using KKK members was an unabashedly political plot point that was hard to ignore. The moment where an unseen attacker sexually assaults Nya and she calls him a “pussy-grabbing motherfucker” is a moment that was added in post through ADR. I really wonder if some of these references were added in the same way. However this came to be, the irony that the handiwork of the NFFA is a monster that has escaped their control is truly rich.
To me, it seems like The First Purge and THE FOREVER PURGE are the franchise’s full evolution into the area of political polemic and a successful attempt to give POC a chance to tell their own version of the story. In fact, regarding the prophetic nature of THE FOREVER PURGE, it is the final twist of the plot that is the most realistic horror to date and it is entirely intentional. The film also ends on a note that leaves questions unanswered. It’s also a full evolution of the series into something more than just a fetishistically violent curio and more of a full-bodied examination of its different subjects, themes, and subtexts that is really exciting filmmaking. I know that I’ve really enjoyed a film when I leave the theatre pumped full of energy and thoughts. When I immediately want to corner random people and recommend the film to them. When my imagination is fired up by a film. THE FOREVER PURGE is one of those films.
THE FOREVER PURGE will be in theaters on Fourth of July weekend.
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