Grab your favorite homemade Halloween mask and get ready for the latest in entertainment when it comes to “Halloween Horror Nights meets blunt social commentary” because The Purge has returned to theaters. While the franchise pivoted to a television series for a couple of seasons, even the previous film, The First Purge, was a prequel. The Forever Purge arrives as a sequel to 2016’s The Purge: Election Year, a movie that turned out to be more optimistic about America than the actual country turned out to be. Five years later (which includes a pandemic-related delay), franchise creator James DeMonaco doesn’t necessarily have much left to prove, but he’s written a script that certainly takes an extreme approach to attitudes of the time. I only wish this action-horror flick had more to offer in any of the areas it rubs up against.
The last time we dealt with a Purge movie, there was a push by the characters in the film to eliminate this event for good. However, this did not last, and big business and various government officials brought it back. For those who may not recall, the annual Purge is a one-night-a-year event where all crime (including murder) is legal. As has been explored throughout the series, while the intention is said to be a means for people to let out all of their frustrations, it’s really just an excuse for people to tear themselves apart. More specifically, it’s a way for wealthy parties to have gullible supremacists go after minorities.
I wish the first film in this series was good, as I have a level of admiration for how DeMonaco slowly ramped up the subtext baked into the premise. The sequels (which are not exactly great either) have pushed things further and further before arriving at a point where random goons are not just beating characters over the head with baseball bats, machetes, etc., but the message of the film as well. Looking at things now, the attempt for The Forever Purge is to specifically see how this event connects to immigration. And, as usual, when talking immigration and trying to connect it to “bad,” the deplorable villains refer to what’s south of the border.
For his part, director Everardo Valerio Gout sets the stage nicely. We follow a Mexcian couple (Ana de la Reguera and Tenoch Huerta) across the border into America, where they believe they’ll be safe. One year later, while they are able to get through the night of the Purge okay, it turns out to be not enough. A masked militia has taken it upon themselves to continue the Purge past what is allowed, with intentions of “purifying” America of anyone who isn’t white to bring it back to “how things used to be.” Now teamed up with a family who lives on a Texas ranch (members include Josh Lucas, Leven Rambin, Cassidy Freeman, and Will Patton), our good hombres will have to fight for their lives to avoid the wrath of the Ever After Purge.
Part of my irritation with this series is a lack of understanding of the rules of the Purge. For whatever reason, it’s a bit harder for me to accept a point in time where crime suddenly becomes legal and illegal. Meanwhile, I’m perfectly fine when it comes to a Mogwai not being allowed to eat after midnight, despite time zone concerns. Regardless, much like Election Year, where I basically said, “screw it,” and more or less went along for the ride, The Forever Purge completely throws out the rules, which makes things much more straightforward.
The problems come when looking at how the rest of the film is handled. As a reasonably budgeted dystopian action film, the relatively unexciting Texas setting allows for a handful of fights, shootouts, and general mayhem that looks fine. The film leans too heavily on digital blood and, if anything, feels pretty tame for a Platinum Dunes production, but I suppose there’s a visceral level of excitement in some of this. It’s just a shame the whole thing feels pretty episodic.
While the throughline amounts to our main characters making their way to the border, turning a pretty good joke from The Day After Tomorrow now seem practically prophetic, the film primarily consists of one scene after another of encounters with evil masked (white) men and some women trying to kill them. Once the film establishes the racially-charged tone early on, there’s no real nuance left. Lucas’ character becomes less racist over time, I guess, but compared to the other films, which seemed to be digging closer to the system that controls everything, The Forever Purge is more about backing away from these psychos.
The choice to get out of the country could be interesting too if the film had more to say about the predicament or simply better acting on display. Reguera and Huerta equip themselves well enough, and you best believe Patton is allowed to have a big monologue, but everyone else ranges from stiff to “more rehearsals were needed.” I’m not saying more outstanding work from thespians is needed when watching a man in a mutated rabbit mask attempt to plunge an ax into one of our leads, but I shouldn’t be distracted by poor line readings either.
I can’t say I’ve been very high on this series as a whole, but it’s still a shame The Forever Purge is another bump in the path of modern social commentary as viewed through a horror lens. The concept is there, the production values are in place, but the film never finds a good enough groove to play as thrilling, creative on the action front, or enlightening as far as DeMonaco’s thoughts on the current state of America. Some decently assembled moments aside, there’s little reason to die on a hill for The Forever Purge.