“They’re fine. Very fun. Political, but clumsy about it.”
Moments after the credits rolled on The Forever Purge, the latest entry in Blumhouse Productions’ popular horror-action franchise, I turned on my phone and spotted a text message from a scary-movie-loving friend, asking if it was any good.
“It was a Purge movie,” I replied, before following up with the succinct review above. The Forever Purge doesn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of its execution (though not for a lack of trying). But it’s a perfect encapsulation of everything good and bad about this franchise, which has been cranked up for one last joyride through a uniquely American apocalypse.
The Forever Purge isn’t the best movie in the franchise (that honor goes to either the original or The First Purge, which is somewhat confusingly the fourth in the series). But this potentially final entry in the saga brings its story to a natural conclusion, delivering an imperfect action-thriller with a graceless political message that still offers just enough bite to piss off some Americans and lure others back to their local movie theater.
Since the first film hit theaters in 2013, The Purge franchise has been delivering more-or-less the same cinematic experience on a semi-regular basis. Created by James DeMonaco, who wrote all five films and directed the first three (Forever was directed by franchise newcomer Everardo Gout), The Purge imagines a funhouse-mirror version of America in which, for one night every year, all crime is legal. (For the sake of these movies that mostly means murder, but I’d pay good money to see The Purge 6: Tax Fraud.)
The Forever Purge picks up at the start of yet another Purge night, apparently the first since The New Founding Fathers of America (the political party that instituted it to begin with) was swept out of office in 2016’s Purge: Election Year. Unfortunately, another election cycle has put this party back in power.
The evening itself comes and goes quickly with little incident for any of our main characters, but the following day sees the violence and killings continue. Unfortunately, the Purge is back with a vengeance — and not even the government can control it this time.
We soon learn that a coordinated white supremacist movement across the United States nicknamed “Purge Forever After” has decided to keep the Purge going as a way to “take back” the country and kill all non-whites, in defiance of the NFFA’s guidelines. (It’s never made clear how the attack was coordinated or who’s in charge, and the fact that 90% of the plot is delivered via TV and radio breaking news bulletins doesn’t help much either.)
In response to this unplanned Purge extension, Mexico and Canada decide to open their borders for just six hours, giving American refugees a chance to escape before they seal those borders indefinitely. This gives our main characters (a group of rich, white American ranchers and blue-collar Mexican immigrants, all forced to work together) a deadline under which they must navigate an apocalyptic Texas and cross the border to safety.
Admittedly, the politics of The Forever Purge are as muddled as its plot. They’re also just as entertaining, and I mean that in a good way.
This is a movie in which a handcuffed skinhead with a swastika tattoo on his face shouts, “What did I do wrong?” There’s no question that the villains here are white supremacists inspired by a fear-mongering political party, one made up of rich white guys who’ve managed to convince their citizenry that the real villains are hard-working immigrants. (The Purge franchise has never been particularly subtle.)
Some of the movie’s best laughs come from playing with this absurd dynamic. When a radio broadcaster reveals that Americans were now scrambling to cross the border into Mexico, the audience at my screening groaned and guffawed in equal measure. Earlier, an Aryan-looking TV news host describes the Purge as “Americans celebrating their freedom,” which I’m pretty sure is a direct quote from Tucker Carlson.
Ultimately, the message of Forever Purge seems to be that America is great when we all work together — and also that Nazis are bad. But this isn’t a movie interested in discussing the deeper roots of American racism, especially because the surface-level stuff is so easy to mock. Maybe Blumhouse is saving its take on Critical Race Theory for the next one? Sign me up for Purge: Civil War.
The acting in Forever Purge is similarly passable without digging too deep. Ana de la Reguera and Tenoch Huerta are likable enough as the Mexican couple trying to make it back home, while Josh Lucas plays a convincing racist-with-a-heart-of-gold who learns to become a better person — but only after a more unrepentant racist shoves a gun in his face.
None of these performances are painful to watch, but they are largely forgettable. While I can appreciate that half the fun of this franchise is its grindhouse flair, it wouldn’t hurt for Blumhouse to shell out for a few recognizable faces to really elevate the proceedings. The first Purge movie starred Ethan Hawke! So how did we get to the point where I don’t recognize a single name on The Forever Purge’s IMDb page?
To be clear, none of this is enough to ruin the fun of The Forever Purge, but all these flaws combined make for a somewhat disappointing end to the franchise. (Executive producer Jason Blum and creator DeMonaco have gone back and forth on whether we’ll get a sixth movie, though this one certainly leaves the door open for another sequel.)
Despite clocking in at just 103 minutes, The Forever Purge feels like it lasts, well, forever. Hopefully, if the series does return, we’ll be offered a more dramatically satisfying end to its central story. But if not, at least it was fun while it lasted.
The Forever Purge will be released in theaters on Friday, July 2.