The Forever Purge is another powerfully political piece of action horror art from the hit franchise, drawing on our current social strife for its scares.
Though no one would confuse The Purge series with your average award-winning “social issue dramas,” it feels equally inaccurate to label a Purge film as just another schlocky low-budget fright-fest, with nothing else on its mind aside from evoking fear from its audience and swiftly moving on to the next sequel. Since its inception in the summer of 2013, writer-director James DeMonaco has always suffused this series with blistering – if blunt – social commentary about the state of politics in American society today, particularly calling out conservatives who claim that the only way to improve our country is to “cut out” those who are “dragging us down” – namely, disenfranchised communities and minorities.
As such, over the course of the franchise, it’s been revealed that the nefarious New Founding Fathers of America (the NFFA, for short) truly came up with the plan for “The Purge” as an excuse to justify the murder of non-white and non-native-born Americans, directly drawing on today’s political discourse for inspiration and extrapolating from our ongoing social strife to show where the country could be headed if considerable change isn’t made soon. Therefore, given how things have only gotten worse since the series started, it should come as no surprise that The Forever Purge sees this concept stretched to its scariest limit, centering around a scenario where a group of extremists decides that the annual Purge does not stop at daybreak and should instead continue until the end of time.
The Forever Purge opens on Adela (Ana de la Reguera, of Army of the Dead and Everything, Everything) and her husband Juan (Tenoch Huerta, of Narcos: Mexico and the upcoming Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) on their trek to immigrate to America, the land of so-called “freedom” and “opportunity.” From there, we flash forward to their time working on the ranch of the wealthy Tucker family, led by patriarch Caleb (Will Patton, of Halloween and Minari), who takes a shine to Juan, much to this disdain of his surly son Dylan (Josh Lucas, of Ford v. Ferrari and Sweet Home Alabama). While Adela and Juan and the Tucker family make it through the annual Purge safe and sound, it’s the morning after this anarchic event when the true evil begins, as a masked gang of marauders attacks the Tuckers – including Dylan’s wife Cassie (Cassidy Freeman, of Smallville and Longmire) and sister Harper (Leven Rambin, of The Hunger Games and Mank) – and abducts Adela, forcing Juan and Dylan to set their differences aside to protect their families and fight back as the country descends into chaos, eventually devising a plan to make their way to Mexico and escape the upheaval of the United States entirely.
While one could argue that The Purge franchise is far past its prime – with neither this film nor 2018’s The First Purge able to replicate the relentlessly riveting thrills of 2014’s The Purge: Anarchy or 2016’s The Purge: Election Year – The Forever Purge is still leagues better than its occasionally placid predecessor, standing as the strongest sequel in the series since the aforementioned Election Year, which was released half a decade ago. Like The First Purge, The Forever Purge begins with a slightly slow start – as we have to become acquainted with each and every major player in the movie and sit through a rather prosaic Purge night before the narrative really gets going – but when the marauders’ madness takes center stage, this “fifthquel” fires off like a rocket and never looks back, consistently escalating in tension until its rousing resolution. In the midst of all this mayhem, director Everardo Gout (Days of Grace) brings a rugged realism to his filmmaking that grounds the film in a grungy and grimy aesthetic, accentuating this scuzzy setting and setting it apart from The Purge chronicles that have come before, as those thrillers were often located in cities and felt somewhat “confined,” and The Forever Purge has the entire Texan wilds to toy with.
By opening up the scale and scope of both The Forever Purge’s story and its setting, Gout and DeMonaco (only acting as a screenwriter this time around) manage to simultaneously make this sequel stand out from the pack and increase its intensity, as there’s truly no place that our protagonists can possibly be safe, and there’s no end in sight for this tumult. At first, this openness can make the film feel a tad “formless,” but as soon as it finds its footing and Adela, Juan, and the Tuckers come up with a clear objective (to make it to the U.S.-Mexico border), the script really begins to take shape, and our engagement is secured. The action setpieces in the latter half of the movie are nothing short of stunningly suspenseful, with the terrifyingly tense third act in particular serving as the high point for the film as a whole, as Gout and DeMonaco juggle multiple concurrent crusades with clear perspective, precision, and potency, keeping audiences on the edge of their seat in agony. By this point, we’ve also already seen that the antagonists highlighted here possess no principle or purity of any kind, making us even more manic, as we know that there is nothing internally that will stop them from executing Adela, Juan, or the Tuckers in the most evil manner imaginable – further adding to the film’s anxiety-inducing atmosphere.
In the past, some have said that DeMonaco’s social commentary is so blunt that it’s like taking “a sledgehammer to the skull,” but at such a horrifying time in American history, is subtlety really what we need? Sure, you can pick out a few pieces of “on-the-nose” dialogue here or there, but when taking a look at the broader picture of DeMonaco’s prophesying, these moments don’t matter; after a group of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol this past January and nearly stopped the certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral victory, it’s not hard to imagine a world in which these extremists escalate their efforts and pursue the same path as these “purgers,” simply dispatching those whom they disagree with in order to advance their own ideology. In that case, The Forever Purge can perhaps be seen as a sign of things to come, should we not switch our course and attempt to actively fight these anti-American forces aiming to divide us at all costs. This urgent and scathing screed infuses the film with importance and forces us to reckon with our potentially apocalyptic fates, elevating it above other genre fare.
The characters in this fifth Purge film may not be quite as interesting or innovatively personified as those in Anarchy and Election Year (such as Frank Grillo’s Leo Barnes or Elizabeth Mitchell’s Charlie Roan), but the cast is still uniformly strong across-the-board, with Reguera and Huerta bringing honorable heart and humanity to their parts of Adela and Juan, earning our empathy through their genuine good nature while still showing strength in calamitous conflict when the moment demands it. Additionally, Lucas is given a stellar storyline as a man who must reconcile with his prejudices when greater peril puts his world in danger, and it’s uplifting to compare and contrast his character with the pernicious “Forever Purgers,” who are beyond saving, while Lucas’ Dylan shows that there are still some who do have the capacity to change, if they’re willing.
The Forever Purge may fall near the middle of the pack for this franchise – not nearing the success of the first two sequels while still surpassing both the initial installment and its immediate predecessor – but it shows that there’s considerable life left in this property, and in many ways, it may be the film series best equipped to address society’s current ailments. With a scorching script that uses today’s turmoil as fodder for fictional frights and skillfully crafted action horror set pieces that thrill and terrify at the same time, The Forever Purge is peak spooky summer spectacle, and a satisfyingly scary way to beat the sun.
The Forever Purge will be released in U.S. theaters July 2, 2021, and worldwide throughout July and August.