The Forever Purge

The Forever Purge ★★★

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Critics and fans have lauded (and bemoaned) the recent trend of “elevated” or “prestige horror” – a subgenre of politically and aesthetically adventurous and self-conscious horror movies that includes hits like Get Out, Hereditary or The Witch. But they have dismissed The Purge franchise’s openly political anti-white-supremacist action thrillers.

The premise of the series is simple and dystopian: A far-right U.S. political party called the New Founding Fathers takes power and institutes one night every year, called The Purge, where “crime is legal,” thereby encouraging mass murder to keep the crime and unemployment rates down. This setup has been used, to varying degrees of success, to tell fun, frightening and astute stories about American policing, racism and statecraft.

Prequel film The First Purge (2018) was probably the best anti-Trumpist Hollywood film to come out during his term, with a story about a far-right party attempting to use The Purge to force a Black neighborhood to descend into violent crime – but the neighborhood comes together instead, so the government sends in police and vigilantes to make it look like the violence was spontaneous. The Forever Purge (the fifth in the franchise, released last week), attempts to make this critique even more explicit. It focuses on a pair of undocumented immigrants as they face down a white supremacist rebellion aiming to expand the Purge from one night of state-sponsored violence into a total genocidal race war.

Horror films, reflecting fantastically on the fears of society, have always played on important of-the-moment political issues. Alas, with The Forever Purge, (and all too often in “elevated horror” in general), when the allegorical and unconscious become literal and self-conscious, we often get less interesting, or scary, stories.

The Forever Purge engages in a bit of bothsidesism, as some images of the fascist uprising look uncomfortably like the George Floyd rebellion, and the central narrative about respectable hard-working immigrants befriending kind-hearted middle class white people is standard Hollywood claptrap. Still, the movie is fun and tense, with great production design and a few genuinely excellent action sequences.

And anyway, where else will a big budget film shoot the border wall as the terrifying monument to death and suffering that it is or show a Black man and an undocumented Mexican woman righteously dispatch a neo-Nazi in the back of an overturned police van or have an Indigenous man pick up a crossbow and say “this has been our fight for the last 500 years”? The Purge is a fun as hell anti-fascist popcorn flick franchise, and will stand the test of time better than many of its more celebrated and aesthetically “serious” horror compatriots.