The Forever Purge fire

The Forever Purge excels at turning American myths into American nightmares

“The heavy-handed political ideas feel necessary to underline the conviction that America is a dangerous place for non-white people and poor people.”

Since the first Purge film was released nearly a decade ago, the franchise has shifted from middle-class anxieties to marginalized ones. The first film, centred on a wealthy family held hostage by the Purge (a 24-hour period where all crime is legal), felt very much like a film of the Obama era. It’s a movie about a security expert who struggles to keep crime at bay. While it can’t quite be categorized as a jingoistic conservative film, it plays into fears of crime and otherness that plague the home invasion genre.

They’ve since made five more films and a television series, and the politics of the films have shifted. While inarguably inconsistent and often cheaply made, the series daringly recentered white anxieties with more marginalized ones. As the series has progressed, the films have made transparent allusions to the unambiguous white nationalist talking points of key members of the Republican party (including former President Trump) and showcased how the powerful and the privileged used the Purge to victimize society’s most vulnerable members. While in some ways more outlandish, in other ways, the series suggests not-too-subtly that Purge level legislation does not need to exist for a large chunk of the American population to be disenfranchised and killed. Those policies exist today. 

The Forever Purge centres on a Mexican couple living on a Texan ranch after escaping the cartel. They manage to survive the Purge, only to be faced with a radical fringe group that wants to instate a “forever purge,” extending the one night of crime to an eternity. If there was a sliver of hope that America could be saved, here that idea is completely trampled. Yet, there’s no real escape. Even beyond its borders, America controls all.

The Forever Purge, starring Ana de la Reguera, Tenoch Huerta, Josh Lucas and Will Patton

What works in The Forever Purge is its bluntness. The dialogue is rough and preachy, but that lends to its charm. The heavy-handedness of its political ideas feels necessary to underline the strength of their convictions that America is a dangerous place for non-white people and poor people. Even so, the rhetoric does often feel inconsistent in terms of ideas and storytelling. One rather compelling monologue about how even the poor and disenfranchised can uphold unfair and dangerous systems that enrich and empower the already powerful feels completely undercut by who delivers it. It feels like an afterthought, a way to shoehorn that dialogue into the film. 

As with other Purge films, the film excels at perverting images of American patriotism in terms of costume design. It twists and turns heroic American myths into American nightmares. While not necessarily any better or worse than the previous films, it’s always worth noting as few horror films marry costume with concept as effectively as this franchise. The sense of iconography remains strong despite the slashed budget, a testament to world-building in the films as a whole.  

All that being said, The Forever Purge never entirely takes off narratively. Despite some moderately clever camera work and interesting characters, the film can’t quite overcome its rushed, low-budget feel. The movie often comes off like a haunted house ride where characters run from one entrance to another as random objects pop out. The over-reliance on CGI rather than practical effects similarly hollows out the film, robbing it of any texture or impact. In particular, the ugliness of that brownish CGI blood and its pathetic splatter have rarely felt so out of place. There are no genuine, effective scares and the premise can only go so far in inspiring horror or dread. The movie suffers from the worst possible cinematic crime: it’s fairly dull and uninspired. 

While generally speaking, critics have been somewhat harsh on recent Purge films, both The Purge: Election Year (2016) and The First Purge (2018) have their moments. They are more cohesive as stories and, overall, feature more compelling and haunting sequences. While The Forever Purge doesn’t necessarily ring the death knell for the series, it will need to bolster its ideas with stronger storytelling to continue to have an impact. More so than any other currently running horror franchise, they reflect America’s darkest impulses. They serve as dark and fascinating documents of a nation divided and fighting for its soul. ■

The Forever Purge opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, July 2. Watch the trailer here:

The Forever Purge, directed by Everardo Gout

For more film and TV coverage, please visit the Film & TV section.