I have seen every single film in The Purge series in the theater, and while the series itself is far from being consistent in any way, it did deliver a perfect one-two punch with 2014’s The Purge: Anarchy and 2016’s The Purge: Election Year. Those movies saw a grizzled Frank Grillo take center stage and fight his way through a wide range of sadistic villains, drenching the action in memorable and atmospheric horror sequences. The Forever Purge is meant to be the final installment of the series (according to writer James DeMonaco leading up to the release), and as such, I had a certain set of expectations. Sadly, The Forever Purge is far more interested in making cartoonish political statements than telling a story worth watching that remains consistent with the established mythology.
You thought the legacy of the New Founding Fathers was dead and buried? Think again. With illegal immigration on the rise, The Purge has been reinstated! We are thrust into the wealthy world of the Tucker family’s ranch and their ranch hand, Juan (Tenoch Huerta). Dylan (Josh Lucas) has nasty views about those who work for his family. Juan is amazing at taming rowdy horses and makes Dylan look bad in front of others. When “slave labor” comes up in a casual conversation, Dylan remarks that, “I don’t even know if I want my kids speaking Spanish in this house.” When the annual Purge rolls around, we skip to the next day as everything seems to go according to plan.
We know that step from literally every other movie: there is an announcement about the annual Purge commencing (this time in Spanish) and all crime—including murder—will be legal for twelve continuous hours. In the aftermath of The Purge on television, a news anchor is shot during a live broadcast. A group of vigilantes ambush Dylan in his barn, taking his family hostage, including his pregnant wife (Cassidy Freeman). Juan becomes separated from his wife Adela (Ana de la Reguera), who conveniently gets trapped in a police van amongst great company, like a rapist Neo-Nazi. The rhetoric of the vigilantes spreads like wildfire. “We will no longer tolerate foreigners raping and pillaging the United States of America,” they claim. They are committed to executing a “Forever Purge,” which they also weirdly refer to as an “Ever After Purge.” Could they not commit to one name? Mexico and Canada will take in anyone from the US, and after six hours, both borders will be closing indefinitely. Juan must work together with Dylan to race to the border. It is a clever reversal of the border-crossing interplay that happens on a day-to-day basis.
I wish I could say this was a significant improvement over The First Purge, but it is only slightly better, and is possibly the most predictable series entry thus far. There are certainly some interesting ideas in this one, but the execution is mostly so poor that it is hard to care. I was shocked that The Purge itself technically ends just thirty minutes into this film. It allows ample time to do something different—however, this feels like it could have been entirely standalone. As a final installment of a 5-movie series, I expected stronger connective tissue. The messages are all so heavy-handed and obvious and little is done to give them definition. A reversal of the white savior narrative, where immigrants must save their racist bosses and lessons are learned, is generically predictable as a plot point before it even begins. You can trace each thread well before it occurs, leaving little to thrill or surprise.
It is not a catastrophic failure, and I did enjoy some things about it. The last 45 minutes are pretty action-packed once it hits the streets of the city. A border closure countdown adds a much-needed ticking clock element to ramp up the suspense. The blood and brutality (when it is not simple and obvious CGI) remains an effective tool this series is well aware by now of how to execute smoothly. Each character remains distinct, if far too much of a caricature, and the writing will occasionally emulate some of the things we have come to love from The Purge.
The Forever Purge fails to expand the scope of the franchise in any significant way. It ultimately feels like a drastically different type of movie than what came before, with the majority taking place in the bright daytime and mostly consisting of desert-set shoot-outs. It has drifted away from the inherent horror of its premise into a more action-heavy political thriller meets western, and I am not sure I was the biggest fan of this direction. The ending is laughable with an extremely clumsy, ham-fisted message that appears to hint at future movies. With so little connection between each entry, why should we care?
While I appreciate the effort to take things in another direction, I don’t find this to be a series that is successful in switching up the central premise. Just give me an annual purge full of carnage and destruction, a few interesting characters, and memorable genre visuals. So far, The Purge: Anarchy and The Purge: Election Year are the only two movies in the series to truly embrace the endless possibilities. With two less-than-stellar entries in a row, The Purge will have to come up with a convincing way to sustain its annual commencement—otherwise, future installments can just stay hidden underground.
The Forever Purge blasts its way to theaters everywhere on Friday, July 2nd.