The Forever Purge
2021, R, 103 min. Directed by Everardo Valerio Gout. Starring Ana de la Reguera, Tenoch Huerta, Josh Lucas, Cassidy Freeman, Leven Rambin, Alejandro Edda, Will Patton, Zahn McClarnon.
REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., July 2, 2021
Few things are as fun as a film desperately trying to capture an emerging historical moment. While the connections between history and cinema are often reserved for prestige titles, B-movies – horror and thrillers reacting to headlines – often provide the best snapshots into American culture. That is what has made the Purge series so remarkable for all these years. Even in their most ham-fisted moments, they are still political history written in something approximating real-time.
(That, and they tend to punch above their weight class when it comes to creative death scenes. But you already knew that.)
The Forever Purge picks up where The Purge: Election Year left off, introducing us to an America that has (predictably) voted Purge politics back into office. Life has been good since Adela (de la Reguera) and her husband Juan (Huerta) crossed the border. Ana has found work at a local meat market; Juan brings his ranch skills to bear for Texas farmer Dylan Tucker (Josh Lucas). And while the two emerge from Purge night unscathed, the violence spills into the following day as right-wing soldiers emerge from the shadows to launch a self-proclaimed “Forever Purge.” With America collapsing around them, Adela and her family must flee across the border with angry gunmen at their heels.
While The Forever Purge has been touted as the conclusion to the Purge series, in true franchise fashion the latest entry shakes off the canon of its predecessors in favor of a more timely political narrative. Right-wing America has long fueled the flames of an invasion myth; this fact is not lost on director Everardo Valerio Gout and franchise architect James DeMonaco. In their hands, the film proves to be more Red Dawn than Election Year, swerving slightly to focus on a gun-toting militia terrorizing middle America. Since the film roots us in the perspective of two undocumented immigrants, this makes the film very much an outsider’s perspective on modern America (real or imagined).
Will this come as a surprise? We are now five films into the Purge narrative, and audiences have long forfeited the right to feign shock at the clumsy approach to classism and politics found in this series. In its best moments, The Forever Purge gestures broadly to the issues of today and makes some salient points about sovereignty and our ugly tradition of border panic. Gout and DeMonaco even attempt to push the metaphor one step farther, casting Zahn McClarnon as an Indigenous leader whose reservation serves as an important border between the United States and Mexico. It might be reactive genre cinema, but reactive genre cinema often makes for the best cultural time capsules.
And The Forever Purge needs to hook audiences with its subtext because this is a franchise clearly on its final legs. Gout does his best – there is even a half-decent extended sequence as the group of survivors shoot their way across the streets of El Paso – but this a movie that struggles to align vision and budget. Those looking for the B-movie action prowess of Frank Grillo from previous films will undoubtedly leave disappointed, and a climactic gunfight in the countryside provides none of the signature kills that fans of this franchise have come to expect. The Forever Purge does have its finger on the pulse of America at a particularly violent moment in time, but for a series defined by glorious chaos, this one paints pretty much by the numbers.