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" Me? Boil water? "
— [Jacqueline], Ever After

MRQE Top Critic

Mr. Bean's Holiday

When you love a movie that earns 50% on the Tomatometer, it's safer to call it a "guilty pleasure" —Marty Mapes (DVD review...)

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It could’ve been a movie of the times, but The Forever Purge turns into nothing more than an empty calorie sour sucker.

The American Dream

Menace behind a mask
Menace behind a mask

This is the fifth in the series of movies about an annual Purge, a government-sanctioned event during which, for 12 hours, from 7:00 PM to 7:00 AM, people either shelter in place or go out into the streets and commit whatever crimes they desire. Even murder.

The underlying thought of the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) is to let people get the anger and violence out of their system one night a year and, in theory, the other 364 days will be relative bliss. Peace, harmony, sunshine, unicorns. Sure. Rainbows? Well, maybe not.

The target of one’s crime spree would naturally be the subject of one’s own discrimination. Maybe it’s driven by racism or sexism. Or maybe it’s social class; the underlying driver in the first movie (released in 2013, starring Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey in a rather basic home-invasion frightener) was to rail against the wealthy.

Of course, there are “rules,” such as only Class IV weapons or lower are allowed (a liberal interpretation of this would make “going nuclear” perfectly legal). In the event somebody is creative enough to actually find some way to violate these rules, they face death by hanging.

It’s such a crazy – and rather stupid – idea. But, what started as cheap horror (following the Blumhouse formula for low budget, big receipts mayhem) has since morphed into what is now classified as an action/thriller – albeit, one that is mighty, mighty extremely violent. How cheap? Well, the jolt of seeing somebody standing behind a closing cabinet door seems to be a standard ingredient in the Purge formula.

What’s surprising about The Forever Purge is there’s actually an interesting idea lurking in the shadows. It’s just that the movie’s too cheap to try to find any sort of answers; it’s all about executing on the premise to create visceral thrills, not to seriously consider the current state of the United States. A bias-free social commentary this is not.

Blood Holiday

In The Forever Purge, there’s an unsettling movement afoot, a wave of anarchists who think the Purge should be perpetual and not relegated to one night per year. They’re the folks who think everybody should stick with their own kind. All the foreigners should go back to where they came from.

Taking that to the logical extreme, that’d leave the U.S.A. with one of the smallest populations on the planet. But, that’s not the kind of logic this type of movie’s going for. It’s basic target is what might now be described as the Trump set. The opening scenes feature the wall along the U.S./Mexico border. News reports tell of Mexican citizens fleeing to America in efforts to escape the violence of the drug cartels. And, of course, the migration upsets some.

Ultimately, The Forever Purge is an exercise in desensitization, a loaded gun of anti-capitalism, racism and other hot-button topics of the day.

This time, there’s a nifty spin: the setting is Texas and there’s a lot of evocative old-west imagery; the use of cattle skulls and other epochal visuals blur with Joker-like makeup and the disturbing idea of grown men running around in bunny costumes. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t even try to elevate the concept or give the issues at hand anything more than the treatment of grotesque caricatures. Heavy emphasis on the grotesque.

America Is Everything

Dylan Tucker (Josh Lucas) is about to be Purged
Dylan Tucker (Josh Lucas) is about to be Purged

Maybe it’s simply the natural progression of things. Horror movies started out featuring singular creatures – from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Wolfman, Frankenstein – otherworldly antagonists that morphed into masked boogeymen like Jason and Michael Myers. Things moved to a larger scale with armies of the undead – zombies – creating menace driven in part by their complete lack of mental capacity. Now, the terror can be found anywhere and in anyone – it’s an inescapable force that would seem to be all the more relevant in the era of COVID and the dark web world of anonymous trolls.

Somewhere between the Purge and the science experiments of the Umbrella Corporation (from the Resident Evil series) lies the beginning of the end that ushers in the Mad Max world of post-apocalyptic self-preservation.

The Forever Purge has a disturbing underlying concept that seems to be edging into reality – albeit, it’s an unsanctioned variety, a rise in crime thanks in part to a deterioration in public trust of peace officers. Here, things devolve so far the tables are reversed as Mexico and Canada temporarily open the flood gates – a six-hour window to let Americans fleeing the violence of the NFFA and the Purge cross the border and seek safety in a foreign land.

In a similar vein, movies like Desierto, directed by Jonas Cuaron, and Get Out, directed by Jordan Peele, mine horror tropes as a vehicle to reconsider immigration and racism from a different perspective. The difference is, those movies offer a meal with some form of meat – whether it’s considered hamburger or steak is another discussion – but at least there’s some degree of substance included with the chills.