Has there ever been a movie franchise as frustrating as The Purge? The Blumhouse moneymaker has a killer premise – America has created a holiday in which once a year all crime is legal for 12 hours. There’s so much you can do with an idea like that; so much you can say. But The Purge series doesn’t want to say any of it. There was a real opportunity here to craft a truly subversive bit of pop art; a bloody, brutal saga that holds a cracked mirror up to America as it is right now. But rather than even attempt something like that, The Purge franchise has instead been content with low-hanging fruit. And now the series comes to end (or so they say) with The Forever Purge, a shoot-em-up that comes very close to breaking the banal cycle. But not quite close enough.
In the ongoing continuity of the franchise, The Purge has been outlawed. But since there’s sweet, sweet sequel money to be made, The Forever Purge immediately gives up that idea in the opening credits, where a news report informs us that after being briefly outlawed, The Purge is back on again. “Can the purge help a divided America?” a news anchor asks in-between reports of rising cases of white supremacy and misinformation. “Wow, doesn’t this sound familiar?” The Forever Purge is unsubtly asking. “It’s just like the real world, but even more twisted!” Here again is an opportunity for the franchise to actually say something – but The Forever Purge punts. It just wants to point out the similarities between this movie world and our own, and offer no real comment on the matter.
So be it. It’s not my job to judge the film The Forever Purge could be – I can only work with what I’ve been given. And what I’ve been given is a serviceable, occasionally inspired action pick overloaded with comically bad jump-scares – at one point, a plastic Halloween decoration drops directly into someone’s face, at which point the soundtrack screams “BWWWAAAM!!!!“, as if a Christopher Nolan movie trailer is about to start.
The Forever Purge is at its best when it’s attempting to subvert the standard formula. Rather than be set entirely on Purge Night, The Forever Purge actually gets the bloody holiday out of the way rather quickly. And then the morning comes, resulting in my favorite sequence in the movie, wherein we get to see people hose the blood off their sidewalks and hear about street cleaners out in full force dealing with all the dead bodies. I’ve never been interested in the Purge itself with these movies. I’m more interested in the logistics surrounding all of this, and how everyday people deal with the aftermath.
Lest you think this is going to be a short movie because the Purge is over early, hold onto your hats. The Forever Purge twists the formula further by having the mayhem continue after the Purge has wrapped up. America has grown so rotten and hateful that The Purge can no longer satisfy all that bloodlust. Instead, a group of white supremacists have taken it upon themselves to keep The Purge going – forever. (Side-note: characters are constantly calling this event “The Purge Ever After,” to the point where you start to wonder if that was the original title of the film before someone decided The Forever Purge sounded better.)
Caught in the middle of all of this is Mexican couple Juan (Tenoch Huerta) and Adela (Ana de la Reguera). The couple fled across the border to get away from the cartels and now dwell in Texas, where Juan works as a ranchhand at an obscenely wealthy-looking farm (the horse stables alone look nicer than any house I have ever lived in). The man who owns the farm is a kindly sort played by the always welcome Will Patton. He’s kind to Juan, but his son Dylan (Josh Lucas) resents the hired hand. Juan believes it’s because Dylan is racist against Mexicans, but Dylan insists he’s not racist – he just thinks all races should keep to themselves and not intermingle. Which sounds pretty racist.
The rift between Juan and Dylan is set up during Juan’s big introduction scene, which for reasons I can’t understand is shot exactly like a truck commercial. Juan walks out in slow motion to tame a wild, bucking horse that Dylan failed to calm. As Juan expertly reins the horse in, men in cowboy hats leaning up against a railing look on admirably. “Now that’s a cowboy,” one of them says approvingly, at which point I expected the FORD logo to slam onto the screen (it didn’t).
Dylan’s distrust of Juan evaporates pretty darn quick once Juan and his buddy (Alejandro Edda) save Dylan, his sister (Leven Rambin), and his pregnant wife (Cassidy Freeman) from some Forever Purgers. Now the group is on the move, trying to get to safety. Mexico has opened up the borders to Americans fleeing the Forever Purge, but in true ticking clock fashion, the borders will close after six hours.
This sets the stage for a bullet-laden journey as Juan and company shoot their way through the streets of Texas. The gunfire is constant, to the point where it becomes numbing. And after a while, you somehow grow bored with all the carnage. There’s no emotional heft attached to anything happening here; we barely even care about the main characters. The actors do the best with what they have, but none of them are fully formed. Only Ana de la Reguera truly stands out as Adela, who is adept at killing people after a life spent fighting the cartels. It all culminates in a finale that plays out like a Western, and I’m talking an old-school Western, complete with Native American characters who show up and start shooting arrows (the arrows explode, so at least that’s a fresh spin on the whole thing).
None of this is that thrilling, and The Forever Purge often plays like a film cobbled together from reshoots and studio notes. There are countless scenes here where characters yell out expository dialogue while completely off-camera, giving you the clear sense that this sort of stuff was all added via ADR after test screenings. Still, The Forever Purge has its moments. There’s a somewhat inspired scene in which a neo-Nazi listens to a hail of gunfire as if he were experiencing a symphony, calling the endless sounds of whizzing bullets “Homegrown music from the heartland.” And I always get a little kick out of the weird Halloween-y costumes Purgers cobble together. But all told, The Forever Purge succumbs to the same blandness that prevails through the series. If this truly is the end of The Purge franchise, it ends with a whimper, not a bang.
/Film Rating: 5 out of 10
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