The Forever Purge (2021)

SEPTEMBER 29, 2021


The trailer for The Forever Purge suggested it was finally going to get out of the creative rut the series was in, by both taking things out of inner cities for once (into the Texas/Mexico border area, specifically, though it was filmed in California) and also setting the action in the daytime. And by tackling immigration issues as opposed to a more general form of racism that dictates the Purgers' actions in the last couple films, this seemed primed to be a shot in the arm for the franchise going forward, the way pitting Jigsaw against the healthcare system in Saw VI bought that franchise some goodwill (if not a return to box office glory).

Alas, most of the film's highlights ended up being... well, what we saw in the trailer. What it DIDN'T show much of is the same old crap that makes up too-long chunks of it; I almost had to laugh when, despite the above changes, a major turning point in the film occurs... at night, in a grimy alleyway. In other words, writer James DeMonaco (who has written all of them, plus the TV series) may have been inspired by current events for this particular entry, but apparently couldn't help himself from reverting to status quo, all but sinking the fresh ideas in the process as it becomes yet another standard Purge movie.

In turn this will end up being another standard Purge *review* from me, as I plead for literally anyone else on the planet (including my own 7 year old child) to write one of these, so that we can get different perspectives on the matter. Not for nothing, but Mr. DeMonaco is one (1) person - a white man from Brooklyn to be exact - and thus has one (1) perspective on race issues in America: his own. I don't wish to belittle his talent (he co-wrote The Negotiator, a movie I quite like), but merely wish to stress that these films are beoming increasingly political and have introduced so many great characters and ideas (this one also works in the theft of the land from the Native Americans), and thus in turn should turn screenwriting duties over to more of them, with DeMonaco stepping into a more godfather-y kind of role going forward. He's at least trusting directorial duties to others (Everardo Gout this time), but there's only so much they can do to mix things up when the script is still coming from the same sole brain.

Worse, it's not a particularly good script even by this series' standards, with a lot of the drama resolved by not one but two instances where our protagonists are split up by circumstances and just so happen to find each other again in a chaotic unfamiliar city. Our leads are a married couple named Juan and Adela, border crossers who have found employment (Adela in a restaurant, Juan on a horse ranch) and spend Purge night locked in a safehouse with others like them, waiting out the night and listening to the chaos outside. However, as the title suggests, the end of the 12 hour purge means nothing to the "Forever Purgers", who continue doing the same sort of thing (read: targeting POC) when the sun comes up. And so now, for irony's sake, they need to cross the border *to* Mexico for their own safety.

They're joined by some white folks, of course, led by Josh Lucas as Juan's boss from the ranch (run by Will Patton, whose limited appearance was given away on the trailer). Lucas' Dylan is ever so slightly bigoted; you almost get the sense they had a focus group to determine how condescending and prickish he could be before an audience just decides he's a total jerk that should die. Naturally, this single day's experience will get him to reconsider 40+ years of his attitude; I assume it's supposed to be a real powerful moment at the end when he says "Gracias" to Juan, but it's just corny as all hell and unearned to boot - Dylan's actions throughout the film are to benefit his (pregnant) wife, there's never a real bonding moment between the two men where it's clear one is helping the other because it's the right thing to do. It's just convenient to have two guns firing at skull masked purgers instead of one, is all.

(Without getting into spoilers, I'll also note that the body count among primary characters is far too low this time around; there are only two deaths of note and the other characters barely acknowledge it. Doesn't help the whole "this is more dangerous than ever!" approach when it allows the highest number of survivors.)

The script also denies itself a strong villain; early on we meet Kirk, another ranch hand (the only white one, I believe) who takes the rancher family hostage, ranting about how they're part of the problem since they hire immigrants. But when Juan mounts a rescue on his employer and his family, Kirk is killed off, and it's another half hour before another alpha villain comes along, this one a traditional redneck-y type with zero flavor whatsoever. And even he is sidelined after his introduction until the finale, so when it comes time to face off against our heroes, it's really no more engaging than it's been for any of the anonymous ones they've fought along the way. And don't hold out hope for the guy on the poster (and subsequent Blu-ray package), as he doesn't appear at all.

Ultimately, all the best things about it are too fleeting to make much of a difference. I was happy to see Resolution's Zahn McClarnon show up as a heroic character, since he usually plays bad guys (he's menacing af in Doctor Sleep), but his role amounts to only a few minutes of screentime. And there are some pointed lines of dialogue here and there - I particularly liked referring to the Americans escaping to the Mexico border as "Dreamers" - but when your best lines are delivered by offscreen newscasters in voiceover, something is definitely "off" about the proceedings. Even the Newton Brothers score, as good as you'd expect from the dependably great composers, can barely be heard in all the other noise (between this and Midnight Mass they've basically taken over my eardrums this week - not a complaint!). As for the action, it's fine; the trailer highlights the sort of Mad Max-y elements it takes on at times, but there isn't much more to them beyond what the spots already showed, and otherwise it's just the same old gunfights with digital blood spraying around whenever another anonymous character is dispatched by our suddenly marksman heroes.

This is the first time I've gotten a Blu-ray of a Purge movie (I should note this is my second viewing; I did see it at the drive-in over the summer* but never got around to reviewing) so I don't know if this is the usual, but for what it's worth there isn't much in the way of bonus features. There's a deleted scene in which the ranch hands trade stereotype jokes at each others' expense (good natured ball bustin'), which perhaps should have been left in to illustrate that Kirk shared some kind of friendship with the others. There's a brief look at the costume designs, which is a good idea considering the look of the random Purgers shows more spark with each new entry than anyone else on the creative side of things. And there's also a pretty fluffy "making of" that essentially doubles as a behind the scenes trailer, with everyone (NOT DeMonaco, pointedly, or Lucas for that matter) saying how this one is the most challenging and thought provoking one yet, trying to sell us on the movie we presumably already saw. And that's basically it; it was only last week that I was impressed by F9's bonus material package (also via Universal), so I know they're still capable of making worthwhile special editions, but this ain't one.

Frank Grillo says he is coming back for a new Purge (it'd be his third), which is fine since his two are the best ones, though I can't say I'm super excited about it if it's once again going to have the same writer (not to mention that Grillo seemed like he was playing two entirely different characters in his entries). What the series really needs is outside the box thinking, letting a film stand out from the others. It's crazy that Don Mancini can manage to create unique flavors for each of the Chucky movies when it's just about a killer doll (i.e. a seemingly limited concept) but DeMonaco can't shake the sameyness from a franchise with so much potential. Changing the location is a good start, but based on the evidence here, it isn't enough of a mixup to restore the franchise's fascinating potential.

What say you?

*Right near some of the shooting locations, as it turns out! Shot in Ontario, which is where I usually get Wendy's before going to the drive-in itself one suburb over (Montclair). Gonna kinda miss that place now that theaters are open and I am both vaccinated and weary enough to just roll the dice on those instead of driving an hour away to see things like this.


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