When The Purge debuted in 2013 as a home invasion thriller with a socio-political backbone, nobody could have predicted how disturbingly prescient it would be. Arriving during the Obama era, the film’s dark twist on “hope and change” lent itself to a world of possibilities that franchise creator James DeMonaco explored in multiple sequels and even a TV series. One thing became clear, however, as the films tumbled into the Trump administration; the grim totalitarianism that led to the underclass being snuffed out in an annual “purge” holiday had little on a reality in which that seemed uncomfortably plausible.
What’s interesting about The Forever Purge, a followup to 2018’s prequel The First Purge, is that after five movies and a new Presidential administration, the premise is just as hot-button on target as ever before. With the events of January 6th still fresh in mind, and white rage the most lethal fuel for domestic terrorism, the film wraps itself in the question, “What does it mean to be a Patriot?” And what better place to tackle that than in Texas, where our very notion of the American cowboy was born. And of course, those cowboys are always white; they wear the red, white, and blue proudly, and they defend their freedoms at the barrel of a gun.
But what does any of that mean in a country that is growing more diverse by the day, and when it’s expected that black and brown people will be the majority in a matter of years? Would you fight to preserve what your notion of patriotism looks like? Would you kill for it? Those questions linger as we’re introduced to immigrants Adela (Army of the Dead‘s Ana de la Reguera) and Juan (Narcos: Mexico‘s Tenoch Huerta), as they sneak across the border into America. Months later, they’ve found work on the sprawling ranch of the Tucker family, where Juan proves to be a better cowboy than pompous son Dylan (Josh Lucas), who expresses to his pregnant wife Cassie (Cassidy Freeman) his frustration at all of the illegal immigrants under their employ. Meanwhile, patriarch Caleb (Will Patton), and sister Harper (Leven Rambin) are more accepting.
Boiling tensions are a really bad thing to have when the Purge is coming up. Created by the New Founding Fathers of America ostensibly as a means of blowing off steam one night per year in which all violent crime is legal, the real reason has always been to wipe out those deemed undesirable. The ultra-conservative political party used the Purge to eliminate homeless, reduce the minority population, and target ideological rivals. All of the violence and death done in the name of patriotism. But what happens when the purpose of the Purge metastasizes and grows out of control?
While the Tuckers slam their security doors shut and wait out the Purge in relative luxury, while Adela and Juan gather in a bunker for immigrants, patrolled by paid guards. It’s all supposed to be over by morning, but that was the old way. As expressed by murderous star-spangled Purgers the next day, the new way is to make the “Ever After” Purge a reality. Why confine it to a single 12-hour event when you can return America to the “real” Americans by ridding it of those who don’t fit their limited idea. And you can guess what color those supposed “real” Americans are.
It makes complete sense that the NFFA, who was reelected back into power after events of The Purge: Election Year, have lost control of this awful thing they created as a weapon for themselves. Sound familiar? As Trump teases a return to office in 2024, his loyal band of extremists are being whipped into a frenzy that has already led to violence and attacks on the democratic process. DeMonaco, whose finger has always been on the country’s pulse, knows it won’t end there. The Purgers are a dark reflection of the toxic patriotism, which is really just white supremacy, that we face today. There’s something DeMonaco realizes that all of the Tea Party idiots and MAGA morons never quite understood, which is that most of the people out there claiming to be Patriots are just pawns to corrupt officials, con men, and rich folks using them to get wealthier.
If bloodshed is what you’re here for, The Forever Purge offers it sparingly. These films have always been about the atmosphere, and there’s nothing quite like the sight of an American city being turned into a warzone. Bullets and rockets fly in equal measure, while innocents get hacked up on every corner. In one scene, an entire row of people is mowed down execution-style; in another, a man is dragged behind a speeding vehicle to his grisly end. As Adela and Juan ride in the back of a police van, an imprisoned skinhead rattles off the types of weapons he can hear firing outside. It’s genuinely unnerving; you just know that Nazi dude is going to get free and fuck some shit up.
Without the threat of the NFFA, The Forever Purge lacks a compelling villain to focus on. One emerges too late to have much impact, although he does lead a pretty cool Alamo-esque standoff, with Dylan being forced to put his biases aside and work alongside Mexicans and Native Americans. Ultimately, if this is the end of The Purge as a franchise, it goes out on a high note and with a blood-soaked message of unity.
The Forever Purge opens on July 2nd.