The Purge series has a way of reflecting the anxieties of the moment, and the latest installment, The Forever Purge, pours gasoline on the subject of immigration and the ugly political divide within the United States. It is a ferocious dystopian view that if you squint, is frightening as to how close we are to this dark reality. Your feelings about this film may get framed largely from your political point of view.
Directed by Everado Gout
The Forever Purge bears all the hallmarks of the Purge franchise, and yet it manages to carve out a very specific festering boil on contemporary culture. Set near the Texas and Mexico border, this chapter follows an illegal immigrant couple, Juan (Tenoch Huerta) and Adela (Ana de la Riguera) who recently crossed the border. Adela works as a supervisor in a meat-packing warehouse and Juan plies his skills as a ranch hand for a wealthy Texan, Caleb Tucker (Will Patton). Tensions build between Juan, a natural horseman, and Caleb’s son, Dylan (Josh Lucas) who gets shown up by Juan when trying to tame one of the rowdier stallions. The jealousy lingers as the coming Purge night nears.
This is the first Purge that Juan and Adela have had to endure. They bunker down with Juan’s best friend T.T. (Alejandro Edda), and a number of other Latino refugees in an armed compound, hoping to avoid the rampaging Neo-Nazis and white supremacists who parade through the Purge night crowing about the genocidal cleansing. The Tucker clan is protected in their armored ranch compound, seemingly secure in the situation.
As Purges go, the night is fairly uneventful for our characters. The town goes through the usual paroxysm of violence with local thugs and gangsters killing each other, but the morning comes, and it appears that the worst is over. But, this year is different. This year, there is a movement afoot to keep the purge going, to continue the lawless rampage beyond the 24-Hour “holiday” and the peril looms permanently. Partnerships out of necessity are formed as the surviving families are forced together to survive a flight to the border where they hope to take refuge… in Mexico.
The Forever Purge is rated R for savage violence, bloodshed, cruelty, and acts of racism and genocide. It is playing in wide-release in theaters across the U.S.A.
★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
This may be my favorite movie of the franchise, since the first outing. It is an incredibly intense ride, and in the theater, you get wrapped up in the chaotic spasms of violence, and it is orchestrated well enough that despite the surrounding madness you have a good feel of what is going on. The plot allows you to feel for all of the characters, and it definitely passes Eric’s Rule #1: Do you care about the protagonists? YES. Given the initial setup of the protagonists, the story does a good job of blending the group together, and the relationships are handled more deftly than I had expected.
The stunt work and pyrotechnics are very well done, and the movie is paced with confidence. It rolls you up into the action, and from the second act on, it has a breathtaking rhythm. This has strong connective tissue to similarly dystopian action films Mad Max, The Warriors, Aftershock, and Escape From New York. The environment sets up that the entire country has been engulfed in violence, and that the only way to escape is to cross the border to Mexico or Canada. Those of you living in Virginia or Missouri… better get driving soon, because the borders are only open for a day.
The history of the Purge franchise has a distinctly leftward bend. The first one of course was a treatise on violence in American culture as seen by a single family in a home invasion. The Purge Anarchy brought the audience out to see what the Purge looked like on a city-wide scale. The Purge Election Year and The First Purge tapped into the racist and classist political origins of the idea. Subtlety is not a trademark of Purge movies, and this movie is about as subtle as a foghorn, though I appreciate the sentiments.
The January 6 riots. The George Floyd riots. The El Paso shootings. The immigrant caravans. The Big Lie. Build That Wall. This movie was inevitable and well-timed. At times, though, I think Blumhouse and Director Gout pulled their punches a bit. Lest they get labeled as left-wing propaganda, some of the villains portrayed have a definite Antifa look to them. But mostly, it’s pointing a finger directly at the nativist and racist white nationalists who have churned things up in society.
By using Caleb Tucker as a sympathetic rich white guy foil, and letting Dylan grow into that role, I think that they did achieve some balance of perspectives, but they could have pushed it just a little more.
Other nits to pick: The villains here monologue excessively. There’s a lot of preening and showboating that gives our heroes a chance to wriggle out of tight spots. There are times when the movie feels a little like a first-person-shooting video game too, which also is par for the course in a Purge movie. Though the characters are compelling, the acting has moments that are stiff, and the dialogue lands like a slab of meat on the floor. “I don’t think he likes Mexicans!” Yeah. That could have been crafted more elegantly.
The third act villain, Elijah (Jeffrey Doornbos) seems fabricated to give a face to the chaos, but that seems to be beside the point. The idea of the Purge is that it is an all-consuming societal black hole. Putting a specific face to this wasn’t necessary, and it felt like this was a focus group decision to add in Elijah. I would have preferred just the raw chaos of the angry mob.
Lastly, there was a special effect shot that drove me nuts. During a big pullback wide shot sequence, off in the distance, a water tower collapses. Cool! I anticipated a big splashdown, but instead, there was a firey explosion. Water towers are not petrol towers! Construction, nerd, I know, and I might be the only paying customer who would pick at that nit, but there you go.
This is definitely a movie better seen at the cinema. You need to fully experience the kinetic rage of the Purge with Dolby sound and a big screen. Like the other Purge movies, this Blumhouse production is probably 70% action 30% horror. But, for me, nightmares are made out of the January 6 riots, and you could certainly make a case that people will determine how much of a horror movie this is by how affected they have been by the violence in the country over the past year.
★★★★ out of ★★★★★
The Forever Purge sits smack dab in the middle of the perfect movie-going Venn diagram. Action? Check. Horror? Check. Gore? Check. Protagonists you really pull for? Check! A prescient and timely villain? Check. Truly, the Forever Purge is a film that offers something for everyone and you don’t even have to be a horror fan to love it!
This perfectly timed and executed (pun intended) slice of social commentary hits all the right notes and delivers in a way that several of its predecessors didn’t. But where the film really delivers is the casting.
The young Mexican couple — Adele (Ana de la Reguera) and Juan (Tenoch Huerta) — are wonderfully endearing as the centerpiece of the film. Desperately trying to integrate into their newly adopted rural Texas confines and grab their increasingly meager slice of the American Dream, Adele and Juan do everything they can to ensure that the Founding Fathers and the purge don’t deter their dreams.
Throughout, these two characters are so well crafted and Director Everardo Gout pays great attention to making sure that the empathy for their plight is at the forefront in each and every scene. Both are so likable and underwhelmingly charismatic that the audience can’t help be sucked into their future — both immediate and long-term. There are scenes where they’re separated, but Gout does a splendid job of creating a real and true relationship that is both heartwarming and believable.
On the flip side of the immigrant story coin is the multi-generational Texas ranching family and the success they forged on the backs of decades and decades of migrant labor. Eventually, their fortunes are undone and their entire ranching future falls to the Dylan Tucker (Josh Lucas, Session 9). Dylan is cut straight from the heart of faux American exceptionalism and lets everyone know that his family and America come first.
The perfectly plausible — in light of the January 6, 2021 insurrection — storyline repeatedly flips contemporary news stories, social anxieties, and long-standing and repugnant racial grievances on their head. Much in the same way that the previous Purge films poke and prod at our tenuous social contract, the Forever Purge does it in a way that actually makes sense, all the while turning out a riveting and thrilling horror ride.
If there’s any failing of the Forever Purge it’s that the tone is not sharp enough. Using society as the villain is a wonderful stroke, but not fully laying the responsibility at someone’s feet misses a grand opportunity. Based on the last several years of uninformed acrimony and conspiratorial lunacy, we need a pinch more editorializing in our filmmaking. It’s not to say that Gout didn’t knock it out of the park with the Forever Purge, it just could have been a little more precise in the reflection of our current societal woes.
What the Forever Purge emblematically tells us is that we need each other now more than ever. Tribal differences matter not when the propagandistic acrimony is being manufactured by corporate interests and those after a cheap buck or two. The real American exceptionalism lies not in besting your neighbor but lending them a hand, or a shotgun, or a hand grenade, or a machete, or a…you get the point.
★★★★ out of ★★★★★
After 18 months of varying degrees of lockdown, The Forever Purge was my first back at the movie theater, and what a movie to come back with! It has been a long time since a film has stirred such a visceral reaction in me and I haven’t stopped thinking about the film since I walked out dazed by the sun after 2 hours in the dark (rolled really, as I had to eat enough popcorn to make up for the last 18 months).
Eric and Mike have both written comprehensive reviews and given you the lay of the land so I will just say that what began in 2013 as a dystopian action horror movie has, over the course of 5 installments, been able to seamlessly pivot and blend unthinkable on-screen horror with even more terrifying (and unthinkable) reality. The Forever Purge is no exception. It is wild, bombastic, and over the top, but it’s also a mirror – albeit a funhouse mirror – and our reflection is clear. In the coming years as film scholars discuss the American experience as reflected in the horror films of the time, The Purge franchise will stand out. (Did I just call a Blumhouse film art?!)