Producers: Jason Blum, Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller, James DeMonaco and Sébastian K. Lemercier Director: Everardo Valerio Gout Screenplay: James DeMonaco Cast: Ana de la Reguera, Tenoch Huerta, Cassidy Freeman, Leven Rambin, Alejandro Edda, Zahn McClarnon, Veronica Falcon, Will Brittain, Sammi Rotibi, Jeffrey Doornbos, Josh Lucas and Will Patton Distributor: Universal
Sadly, it begins to appear that the title of this fifth installment in the ultra-violent “Purge” franchise might apply to the series as a whole, which threatens to become an endless stream of sadistic slaughter-thons leavened with some crushingly obvious social commentary. One can take some solace in the fact that a cable TV spin-off expired after only two seasons, but the big-screen version continues unabated.
Of course, fans can justify themselves on the ground that, while the movies are full of mayhem and gore, they’re also making a political point about the dangers posed by polarization, income equality, and the willingness of some to use extreme measures to vent their anger against supposed mistreatment and affirm their claims to superiority. But the message is arguably little more than an excuse to wallow in another cinematic bloodbath.
This entry is set—what could be more appropriate?—in Texas, where participation in the upcoming celebration of the annual purge—restored after its architects, the so-called New Founding Fathers, have been returned to power following their removal at the close of the last movie—is enthusiastically embraced by rednecks but shunned by blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and whites like the family that owns the Tucker ranch—patriarch Caleb (Will Patton), his son Dylan (Josh Lucas) and daughter Emma (Cassidy Freeman) and Dylan’s pregnant wife Harper (Leven Rambin)—who have installed protective devices around their property to ward off the participants who, to let off steam, are legally allowed to brutalize and kill with impunity whomever they want once a year.
Caleb has a remarkably enlightened attitude toward his Hispanic employees, including undocumented Juan (Tenoch Huerta), who had crossed the border with his wife Adela (Ana de la Reguera), now a foreperson in a slaughterhouse; Caleb especially appreciates Juan’s aptitude as a horse-trainer. Dylan is less accepting, but not openly hostile, the way his lieutenant Kirk (Will Brittain) is; he’s more of a benign segregationist.
On the night of the purge, the Tuckers hole up in their impregnable ranch house, while Juan and Adela join a group of potential targets in a heavily-guarded chamber. All survive the gruesome ritual, but emerge the next morning to discover that many purge participants are not halting their crusade this time. Declaring a “Purge For Ever,” they declare war on those they consider undesirables, intent on purifying the population and reclaiming “their” country.
Kirk is one of their local leaders, and he attacks the Tuckers. Juan and Adela are targets too, of course. Ultimately the survivors—who also include African-American Darius (Sammi Rotibi)—band together in an attempt, ironically, to reach the Mexican border as attacks by the “Forever Purgers” engulf the state, and ultimately the entire country. They’re pursued by an exceptional brutal purge leader called Elijah (Jeffrey Doornbos), but aided by Chiago (Zahn McClarnon), a Native American tribal chieftain.
The chaos is filled, of course, with nastiness, brutality and death, but also with unabashed socio-political messaging. The most blatant comes in an extended speech Caleb addresses to Kirk, telling him that he’s a pawn of the very forces of privilege and power that he claims to be fighting. But Dylan’s character arc is even more instructive: from a benighted fellow who objects to having Spanish spoken in his home at the start, he’s bonded completely with Juan by the close, a changed man.
One has to wonder how the target audience of “The Forever Purge” will react to this moralizing, or to the obvious comparison the movie draws to the Trump presidency and its aftermath—particularly the suggestion of a return after a hiatus and the embrace of violence by white supremacists. The general thrust of the government manipulating discontented people into doing its bidding is something that’s permeated the entire series, of course, but in this case it’s more explicit in light of the events of the last couple of years, and the open-endedness of the close has a decidedly monitory thrust. But perhaps fans will just dismiss that as obligatory window dressing to be tolerated in return for another delectable helping of mayhem.
And it must be admitted that director Everardo Valerio Gout and his collaborators—the fight choreographers, stunt men, cinematographer Luis Sansans and editors Todd E. Miller, Vincent Tabaillon and Tim Alverson—do an extremely efficient job. Jennifer Spence’s production design and the music by The Newton Brothers add to a package that, as far as it goes, is effectively put together. The acting is more than adequate to the task as well, with Huerta and Lucas actually bringing some nuance to the men, Reguera and Freeman doing the same for the women, Patton bringing a touch of class to the proceedings, and Doornbos and Brittain making thoroughly odious villains.
In the end, though, the craftsmanship of the movie seems misspent. Though the carnage is wedded to a socio-political message with contemporary overtones, it’s still the carnage that dominates, with the message a sauce to make it less unpalatable.