Since it started in 2013 with Ethan Hawke playing an opportunistic security system salesman, The Purge movies have been a guilty pleasure of mine. But it’s grown harder to use the word “pleasure” as the franchise that has gotten weaker and more heavy-handed with each new installment. The slick yet effective subtleties of the first film have given way to a bludgeoning messaging and a complete lack of nuance. Even worse, the later movies cross a line the first couple manage to straddle – one that sees them relishing the very violence they priggishly condemn.
“The Forever Purge” is the fifth and allegedly final film of the franchise and a direct sequel to 2016’s “The Purge: Election Year”. The story is once again written by series creator James DeMonaco but he hands the directing duties to Everardo Gout. In this newest chapter DeMonaco once again infuses his dystopian world with his own cynical and damning vision of current events; essentially looking at America through the same critical lens as his last films. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t expect “The Forever Purge” to explore any of its themes in a meaningful or insightful way.
“The Purge” movies have always been built on a concept that sounds dumb on the surface but potentially provocative and daring underneath. Unfortunately by constantly getting in its own way the movies never fully realize that potential. If you need a refresher, the Purge is a government sanctioned ‘holiday’ where all crime including murder is permitted for one night. For twelve hours all police and emergency services are suspended. It was created and put into law by the New Founding Fathers in response to America’s rising crime rates and economic collapse. Of course deep down there were far more nefarious motivations at work.
Never above shamelessly exploiting the political hot-topic of the day, the newest chapter latches onto America’s ongoing southern border crisis. We first meet husband and wife Juan (Tenoch Huerta) and Adela (Ana de la Reguera) as the illegally cross from Mexico into the United States. Skip ahead a few months and Adela is working at a meatpacking plant while Juan trains horses for a wealthy white family on their Texas ranch. The ranch owner Caleb Tucker (Will Patton) treats Juan well, even giving him a bonus to help keep his wife safe during the upcoming Purge. That’s not the case with his son Dylan (Josh Lucas) who comes across as a little jealous of his father’s affection for Juan.
Purge night comes and goes leaving the small town soaked in blood and bodies. Having survived their first Purge, a relieved Juan and Adela join others who survived the night and try to get back to their normal routine. But little do they know a countrywide movement of deranged extremists have determined one night of purging isn’t enough. This cartoonishly bigoted “Ever After” group launches its campaign of hate and supremacy all over the country apparently with numbers similar to that of an invading nation’s army (It’s best not to wonder how such a widespread violent rebellion was organized without being detected. Questioning things like that in these movies usually doesn’t pay dividends.)
As Adela heads back to work she finds herself trapped by bunny-masked crazies. Meanwhile Juan and fellow undocumented ranch hand T.T. (Alejandro Edda) arrive at the Tucker’s ranch to find Dylan, his father, his pregnant wife Cassie (Cassidy Freeman), and his sister Harper (Leven Rambin) about to be executed by a band of purge-happy cowboys. The Mexican immigrants rescue the privileged white family setting up a pretty predictable “I was wrong about you” reconciliation. But before that can happen they have to find Adela and scurry to Mexico which is accepting American refugees but is about to close its border as violence intensifies across the U.S.
“The Forever Purge” continues the franchise’s slide away from horror and towards gun-heavy action. We do get a few utterly pointless nods to its horror roots mainly through a handful of lazy jump scares. Other than that this is mostly a straight-up action flick. Gout clearly has a way with the camera and he puts together several visually impressive sequences. My favorite is a killer tracking shot that follows our protagonists through the violent and ravaged nighttime streets of El Paso. There is also a propulsive energy to Gout’s direction that keeps his audience locked in moving forward.
While Gout manages to keep things reasonably entertaining, DeMonaco’s script often finds a way of undermining what the director is doing. At its core this really is just a variation of the same simple survival story that we’ve gotten since the second film. Different characters and a much different location, but it’s still about getting from point A to point B in a certain amount of time and staying alive while doing so. It may sound routine but you can still do some fun and clever things with it despite its simplicity. In fact, in some ways DeMonaco’s use of setting makes this film considerably more engaging than his last two efforts.
It’s when DeMonaco begins pounding his pulpit with the subtlety of a sledgehammer that things unravel. At times his dialogue is laughably blunt and his message so brazenly in-your-face that you can’t help but roll your eyes. And then there are the few times when his unwavering allegiance to his convictions lead to carelessness. Take the ending newsreel that could almost be interpreted as a reckless call to arms and a stamp of approval on a second Civil War. The optimist in me would like to believe he has other intentions such as issuing a warning in hopes of preventing that future. But when so much of his movie’s messaging is frank and on-the-nose, it’s hard to really know for sure. “The Forever Purge” is now playing in theaters.