The Forever Purge

By now most people will know whether or not they’re up for a Purge movie. Surprisingly, I’m usually up for one. The Forever Purge, the fifth movie in the series along with two seasons of a tv show, does what just about every Purge movie does: sets up a survive-the-night (day in this case also) situation for a group of racially diverse strangers, adds in a heaping handful of heavy-handed political commentary, adds a liberal dash of gnarly violence, and tops it off with some hope. Viewed through that lens, this new movie works well enough.  

I’ve always liked the concept of this series, an annual, government sanctioned 12 hours of anything goes anarchy meant to purge us of our worst urges. Many have been quick to point out that this doesn’t make a lick of sense. And yeah, it doesn’t. But, with no offense to the armchair know-it-alls (like myself, to be honest) who think their cleverness depends on pointing out the obvious, that’s kind of the whole point. It doesn’t make sense, and most everybody in the movieverse know this, especially those whom it affects the most adversely: people of color, the downtrodden, and the poor. Yet, it still continues, set up by rich old white men to thin out the populace of “undesirables” who don’t want them in power and weaponized by self-righteous zealots who mindlessly scream about how it’s their “freedom!” to commit bloody violence. Does any of this not sound familiar? It’s a potent parable.

And I’ve been impressed with how each subsequent movie in the long running series has expanded this idea while still sticking to its roots as a B genre movie. The Forever Purge continues that tradition. Here, somewhat annoyingly, the purge is reinstated after all the trouble gone through in the third movie to get rid of it, dispensed of in quick voice-overs during the opening credits. But then, even though it’s a reset, things move forward again with the concept. Like the sequels that Hollywood prefers, it’s more of the same, but different. The purge night, this time, goes off without incident for our heroes, two recent illegal Mexican immigrants and an affluent white family of ranchers they work for. The next day, however, after the blaring sirens announce the end of the bloody event, the violence and anarchy continue as the aforementioned zealots can’t abide with just 12 hours of anarchy and band together around the country to keep it going. Our heroes must then group up and make a run for the Mexican border, which has opened access for a limited time, while dodging homicidal maniacs all around them.

Far-fetched? Maybe, but after a year that saw basic practices to keep us safe politicized to a standstill, the stupidities that we as a human race are capable of don’t seem so far-fetched anymore. Besides, I like the progression of the movie’s concept, how the “purging of violence” actually just begets more violence until the hunger for it is insatiable and our country collapses into chaos. The purge eats up it purgers. I’m not quite sure, though, I believe that Canada and Mexico would open their borders to us, even for a limited time. Now that’s far-fetched.     

The movie has a slick look, but that slickness doesn’t translate to the action sequences. A police van hit by an RPG is seen mostly from the inside as the car flips over. It’s presented with Matrix-like slow-motion, but it goes on so long I thought my screener got stuck buffering or something. When it finally landed, I was like, “Oh, that was intentional?” Later, the dreaded oner is attempted: we follow the action in one long take with seemingly no edits. The fact that this trick is so overused (1917 made a whole movie out of it just recently) and the “hidden” edits so easy to spot, it doesn’t much impress in the best of examples anymore. It doesn’t help that here the camera just listlessly follows a group of people from one building to the next with the fact that it’s supposed to be one take barely even registering.

But that’s also par for the course when it comes to the Purge movies. The genre elements are never really mind blowing and perfunctory at best with set pieces often boiling down to generic shots of shooting and getting shot, momentary CG blood entering the frame. I’d love to see one of these movies done by a real genre aficionado. As this is partly a Blumhouse production, the mavens of horror and B-movie shlock, why not bring Leigh Whannell aboard? He showed real promise with his Blumhouse movies Upgrade and The Invisible Man. The mind boggles at what someone like that could do with a Purge movie.

In the end, though, I still liked the simple pleasures The Forever Purge provided. There is something rousing seeing a diverse cast, fronted predominantly by people of color, coming together to kick racist ass. When one of the white ranchers asks an Indigenous American why he’s helping him and his compatriots battle a group of encroaching Purgers when it’s not their fight, he answers, “This has been our fight for 500 years,” while cocking a gun. No, it’s not nuanced. No, it’s not subtle. But, dang it, it is awesome. And while the movie around it is never that awesome, it’s still worth your time if you’re a fan of the series.   

-Pavel Klein

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