You’re talking about America! The way the rich get rich off the backs of the poor! The way it’s been ever since we robbed this land from the Native Americans!
The Purge franchise is one of the most interesting horror series of the 2010s. While not my favorite horror series of the decade and certainly not the most successful, it’s the one that seems to capture the zeitgeist the most. As much as the Scream franchise captured the disaffected ‘90s and the Hostel series was a commentary on post-9/11 Bush-era America, The Purge series is an even blunter reflection of our current society. There’s no subtext; it’s all just text. Which I kind of love.
The Forever Purge (2021) is (allegedly) the final film in this series. Aside from fact that they’ll almost certainly make a new one within five years, it serves as a solid wrap-up to a franchise that started out rough and vague but gets more and more interesting with each additional film. The Forever Purge doesn’t have the current-day exploitation film veneer of the previous entry, The First Purge (2018), but it maintains the blunt commentary, the intriguing characters, and the situations that are so horrifying because they feel familiar and almost inevitable.
The prologue is like a horror short on its own, showing the dangerous unknowns of people crossing into the US border illegally. Adela (Ana de la Reguera) and Juan (Tenoch Huerta) are a couple escaping cartel violence in Mexico and looking for a new life in the United States. Adela believes in the American dream—at least a much nicer version of it than you’d see spouted on right wing news channels. Juan believes that escaping Mexico was necessary but not that the US is much safer. His argument holds a lot of water when we find out during the opening credits that, hilariously, the political party that was voted in at the end of The Purge: Election Year (2016) and abolished The Purge were voted out two terms later and The Purge came back big time.
Adela and Juan are two classic action/horror leads. Adela is kind and hardworking, but it’s eventually revealed she can be a gun-toting badass when she needs to be … because she’s has to be. Juan is a strong silent type, and a cowboy through-and-through. That last part pisses off Dylan Tucker (Josh Lucas), who runs his father’s ranch with his sister and his pregnant wife, and he’s one of those “I’m not racist, but why can’t we all stick to our own” kind of asshole racists.
Where The Forever Purge differs from the previous films in a really cool, interesting way is the concept of The Forever Purge itself. The beginning of the film has all the same tense build-up to the night of The Purge, and we see our various leads holed up and ready to make it through the night. But then, The Purge ends without anything happening to the protagonists at all. That’s when I remembered the title of the film and that’s when the real premise finally kicked in. With some of the population continuing to Purge and overwhelming emergency services, the Mexican and Canadian governments open their borders for refugees for the next six hours. I was glad we got a new goal and timeline (make it to the border in six hours vs. make it through the night for 12 hours) and it’s a pretty decent twist that Adela and Juan have to make the trek back while putting Dylan in the desperate shoes of the type of people he dislikes.
One thing that made me pretty lukewarm on The Purge (2013) is that the movie was focused almost entirely on rich folks hiding in their fancy house. It wasn’t until the series started really delving into the social commentary that it truly blossomed—peaking, in my opinion, with The First Purge (2018) directly comparing cops to the KKK—so I was glad that this movie had a lot to say politically, but I was a little wary about a rich white family being our leads again. Luckily, Adela and Juan stay at the forefront throughout. It’s very solidly their film, with the family being supporting characters and Dylan himself being a third lead at best.
Getting to see a Purge happen in a location completely different from the previous films is a nice change of pace. The cinematography and direction are solid, with a few striking images sticking with me. The production design continues to be great, particularly because we see Purgers when they’re all decked out to kill and cause mayhem. The pacing is solid too; it moves at a decent clip even as it builds the tension before The Purge. The only time when it seems to drag out is when the main characters are stuck in El Paso for a while.
All of the actors do a fantastic job, with Huerta being a stand-out to me and Lucas doing a solid job of making a rich, racist dick not completely unwatchable. I want to mention two smaller roles that show up later in the film. They’re Chiago (Zahn McClarnon) and Joaquin (Gary Nohealii): two men helping people escape The Purge. We see Chiago on a news channel early in the film, deriding The Purge from a Native American perspective. McClarnon has put in some fantastic performances in recent years, and he stands out in this small role. Nohealii looks awesome shooting a bow and arrow, and I’d watch an entire TV series about these two dudes taking out every single Purger in America. Creating supporting characters that feel lived-in and instantly iconic is exactly what genre movies should do.
Is it possible that The Forever Purge has too much commentary and seems like it’s patting itself on the back for simply knowing about the fractured state of things? Maybe. But I prefer that to “apolitical” and milquetoast. I want a movie that has a point-of-view, and this one definitely does. If you’re a fan of the series, then absolutely check it out.