One thing I dare say Universal never bargained on was how sad these America Goes to Hell horror tales of “The Purge” can be. Because it’s not characters struggling, gaining our empathy and then dying that threatens to bring the viewer to tears, it’s how prescient these movies can seem, prescience tinged with regret for the America we hoped we’d be living in.
Because after January 6, 2021, nothing we see in these movies seems the least bit far-fetched. We know these grievance-filled goons are among us, hoarding guns, organizing online, plotting violence, egged on by opportunistic public figures in politics and right wing media.
We know they like to play dress-up, the dears.
We know they’re anti-democratic — Putin-worshipping fascists, parading around in their Vanilla ISIS pick-em-up trucks — infuriating by themselves, alarming when they’re waving their racist dog whistle banners.
Writer-director James DeMonaco tapped into the rising temperatures in a nation that couldn’t keep its white supremacist underbelly quiet when a Black man won the presidency with 2013’s “The Purge.” And in the years since, he’s charted/predicted a national descent into violence and madness, racial/cultural backlash run amok, cultish devotion to false prophets, the works, with every new wrinkle in this B-movie (and TV series) horror parable feeling more real with each passing year.
“The Forever Purge” weaves it all in — race and immigration, resentment against elites and a penchance for violence to show us how the next Civil War starts, or might if we let the insurrectionists among us go unpunished.
A racist political party, pushed from power, schemes and cheats and frightens its way back in control so that divided America can get back in the habit of “purging” its rage once a year.
We see much of what transpires here through the eyes of newcomers. Adela (Ana de la Reguera) knows about the coming Purge, but still hires coyotes to bring her north. She joins husband Juan (Tenoch Huerta), who has a job as a horse-trainer “horse whisperer” on a ranch in Texas.
That’s the setting of this “Purge,” our most militant, belligerent, armed and anti-immigrant state, where Adela finds a job in a meat packing plant.
They will ride out the purge as a couple, in a guarded warehouse where Latin American immigrants will be safe, they hope. That’s no more comfort than the sounds of gunfire are.
“There’s parts of Mexico that sound like this every night.”
Back at the ranch, the patriarch (Will Patton) worries that his son (Josh Lucas), who badgers Juan with accusations and threats, has reached his 40s without absorbing his father’s tolerance and values.
“Always taught my son to be a patriotic American,” he sighs. “But maybe I didn’t teach him what that meant.”
Come the purge, the white folks will be holed up in their fortified ranch, armed to the teeth. But they haven’t reckoned on one disgruntled employee (Brett Edwards) with a serious case of right-wing class war on his mind. His gang of New Patriots roll in, and all bets on the night to come are off.
But come the dawn, the sirens sound and it all ends, right? Not this time. “Endless Purge” or “Forever Purge” or “Purge Till You Drop,” this starts to look like a full-on insurrection.
Who will save whom, who will survive and where will there be refuge as Texas descends into secessionist slaughter and chaos?
These movies aren’t subtle enough to be called “satire,” but that’s what we’re watching. “Real Americans” (some with swastikas tattooed on their faces) revel in “home grown music from the heartland” and reject the “brownies” they see everywhere they look.
They will “PURIFY” “their” country with an ongoing purge. “Martial law” by their New Founding Fathers of America party just cements an unseen president’s hold on power and gives them license. The military is pulling back to let them have at it, martial law be damned.
The Latinx folks are scrambling to stay out of their way, and when that fails, they fight back. They, of course, are the first ones arrested for doing just that — defending themselves.
The violence is first-person-shooter video-game oriented, until the bullets run out. The shootouts, chases and fights are pro forma, and mostly effective enough as action beats.
A Nazi in a police paddy wagon ticks off the sounds he and others hear in the streets as they’re arrested and driven to jail — “Shotgun. Thirty-aught-six. An AK-47. That THERE’s a Glock!”
The reminders that this is satire come from the soundtrack (Freddy Fender singing “I’ll Be There Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” in Spanish and English) and the archetypal characters.
There’s a sage Native American pundit (Gregory Zaragoza) warning us on TV, then picking up the bow when we won’t listen.
The film’s message, that America’s immigrants and its disapproving but hopeful neighbors might help pull us from the brink, is as uplifting as these movies get.
Proof that this is a B-movie and straight-up exploitation comes from the violence, and the sometimes cheesy moments of connection, teamwork and salvation.
In every “Purge,” it’s always darkest before the dawn. But with “The Forever Purge,” we have to consider what we do after the sun comes up and the goons among us haven’t stopped, and haven’t been brought to justice.
MPA Rating: R for strong/bloody violence, and language throughout
Cast: Ana de la Reguera, Josh Lucas, Tenoch Huerta, Leven Rambin, Susie Abromeit, Sammi Rotibi, Gregory Zaragoza and Will Patton
Credits: Scripted and directed by James DeMonaco. A Universal release.
Running time: 1:43