Cinema Dispatch: The Forever Purge

The Forever Purge and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures

Directed by Everardo Valerio Gout

The Purge sequels have been a favorite of mine since I started reviewing movies with the second and third one being fantastic examples of Carpenter-esque socially minded shlock action films, and even The First Purge managed to have much to wring another solid film out of the tired formula.  To keep it going with a fifth one though seems to be stretching it, and frankly the fact that I simply didn’t even know this movie EXISTED until about a month or two ago is not what I’d call a great sign.  Still, it’s amazing that any of these movies ended up working as well as they did and the world we are living through certainly gives Blumhouse and company more than enough material to work with for at least another film.  Is this a fun and familiar reminder of why we loved going to movies in the first place, or have the wheels finally fallen off this series just when people were most eager to go back to the theaters?  Let’s find out!!

Despite Senator Roan winning the presidency on a platform of ending The Purge, things are still the same by the start of this movie as the NFFA (New Founding Fathers of America) are back in power and the Purge is still on with nary a whisper of what happened in between.  None of this is of particular importance to Adela and Juan however (Ana de la Reguera and Tenoch Huerta) who are just trying to live their lives in Texas despite the prejudices of those who celebrate The Purge and even Juan’s employers who don’t but still don’t particularly care for him and his kind being around.  The two families ultimately end up on the same side though as this latest Purge Night doesn’t seem to go as planned as all the weirdos coming up with Busch League Jigsaw traps are still roaming the streets the next morning because this is the FOREVER PURGE and no one is gonna tell them to stop expressing themselves in the most violent and bigoted ways possible!  After Jan and one of his friends TT (Alejandro Edda) save his employers Dylan, Cassie, and Harper Tucker (Josh Lucas, Cassidy Freeman, and Leven Rambin) from one of those Forever Purgers, they find Adela and start driving for the Mexico border as they are taking in refugees from America… BUT ONLY FOR THE NEXT SIX HOURS which sounds a bit arbitrary but it certainly gives our characters a ticking clock to race against as they try to make their way to El Paso without getting murdered by a bunch of White Supremacists who feel that their time is now to rise and up and kill everyone they don’t care for as well as anyone who dares to help them along the way.  Can these people from disparate backgrounds work together and escape America before they’re stuck in there for good, or will the bitterness between Dylan and Juan prove to be the undoing for both of their families?  Just how long can this Forever Purge go, and is this all just another sinister tactic from the NFAA?  Is it just me or does everything feel a bit half-hearted here?

Nice hat, dork.

Despite a few good ideas here and there and some solid character work, I just couldn’t get into this and was rolling my eyes through the whole thing.  It’s disappointing that one of the franchises that meant so much to me at one point made a movie that I was quite bored watching as it just didn’t feel as interesting or vital as the other films despite trying much harder in some places to be about something important.  What I needed to know as soon as I got out of the theater is whether it’s the movie that’s hollow or the world has changed enough that the franchise itself is a shell of what it once was, so I rewatched Election Year (the best one in the franchise by far) to see if it still holds up, and at least for me I still found it to be exciting and thought provoking if a bit more hokey than I remember with some less than stellar cinematography.  If nothing else, this gives me a starting point to grapple with my less than stellar feelings about this movie and maybe come to an understanding of why I felt that way.  I can’t help but WANT to like the darn thing for what it’s trying to get across, but I left the theater feeling very underwhelmed and I want to know why.

Seems like a step down from guillotines and flamethrowers if you ask me.

As a Purge movie, I don’t think it’s particularly rewarding for fans of the series as it deviates strongly from the last three films.  There’s no Leo Barnes, no Senator Roan, and what little of the NFFA there is stays mostly relegated to expository news stories without any insight into their inner workings.  The reestablishing of the status quo is similarly disappointing in execution as the movie just tells us the NFFA was voted back into office, so if it wasn’t bad enough that none of the characters from the original trilogy are back (The First Purge happened long before this movie which seemingly takes place a few years after Election Year) they feel completely ineffectual as their actions to stop The Purge proved pointless.  At most, I can maybe understand how the ruthlessly cynical politics of today were informing this choice.  After all, Election Year assumed that we WOULDN’T have to live under a trump presidency and despite the Democrats winning in 2020 the prevailing wisdom is a return to the republican status quo with the 2022 midterms, but the fact is that the pervious sequels did a MUCH better job establishing The Purge and the state of the country leading up to the big night.  Here, it’s all just hand waved in random news snippets during the opening credits and it left a bad taste in my mouth right off the bat.

“This just in, the bad guys won the election for no reason whatsoever.  Local experts advise not to think about it and just go with the flow.”     “Is this what you guys call fake news?”

The presumptions this movie has about its own premise are far from the only thing that sets it lower than any of the other sequels as the whole thing feels like it’s on autopilot and is simply going through the motions of being a Purge movie.  There’s a definite change in perspective here as no one in this story is particularly important in the grand scheme of things as we don’t have someone being targeted like the Senator in Election Year, someone dragged into reluctant heroics like in Anarchy, or even the rescue mission in The First Purge.  The story is very grounded with two families simply working together to reach the border which I feel could have been interesting but the film is trying to have it both ways; denying us the diverse group of misfits working together towards a common goal to bring things down a notch but also giving us over the top (yet still bland) action instead of something more intimate and terrifying.  It ends up having the tone and tenor of a post-apocalyptic movie instead of a Purge film (going so far as to raid an abandoned convenience store for supplies) and it just feels like all the fun and intrigue have been stripped out of it in an effort to be taken more seriously.  This also extends to the over the top spectacle and goofy as heck Purgers you expect to see running around as the ones in this movie just don’t feel like anything beyond the type of hateful person they symbolize.  No thrill seekers, no costumes that it they clearly spent all year working on, at best there’s like one dude in a cowboy hat who speechifies for like five minutes.  That’d be disappointing for a Purge YouTube series.

You know, I figured guys like this would be ANTI-Mask!

Now all that said; I want to give credit where it’s due and to elaborate on what may work about this movie even if it didn’t work for me.  The one thing that this movie has going for it are the two leads, Ana de la Reguera as Adela and Tenoch Huerta as Juan, who are fully developed, likable, and even flawed in believable ways that make them compelling to watch even if the rest of the film can’t keep up.  The ideological split between the two of them is reflective of the story’s message as a whole as Juan wants to embrace her new American life while Adela is much less interested in assimilating into a society that is so openly hostile to him.  It’s not that much less hostile to Adela though and she can still find room in her heart to embrace the people around her, but in Juan’s defense… well I mean we’re talking about a Purge movie here!  The anti-immigration sentiments expressed by the Purgers are far from blunt and even the people he and Adela have to more or less rely on to survive this event are not as far from them as they’d like to believe, so both sides are in constant tension throughout the movie.  Where it falls a bit flat though is that the film can’t seem to land on a conclusion; leaving enough balls up in the air for it to stay non-committal to any one viewpoint.  Heck, even the racism of Dylan never comes to a meaningful head as they just kind of hand wave it away at the end like so many other things in the movie.  This wouldn’t be SO bad if it wasn’t so adamant to take itself so seriously with the stripped down aesthetic and use of some VERY disturbing imagery to get its points across.  It’s a fine line that the franchise has always had to walk, and where even The First Purge kinda stumbled at points, this feels like it fell off completely.  Trucks full of people being tortured, white nationalist and fascist symbols being the primary identifier of the Purgers, the use of racial slurs liberally by the bad guys who advocate for a cleansing of America, it all feels excessive and maybe a bit forced as the existence of any other type of Purger, from petty thieves, Alpha dude bros screaming on corners, and covens of rich jerks slaughtering the poor, is completely absent from this entry in the series.  Now all that said, I can’t speak for any other audience who might see this; particularly those that the film are directly speaking to.  Horror as a genre is about finding what makes people uncomfortable and reflecting that on screen with GOOD horror making it more about catharsis than simply exploiting the imagery.  Is this film exploitative of the plight of Latinos in a country that scapegoats them for all of its ills?  I don’t think I can make that call, and frankly the version of The Purge we saw in Election Year wasn’t without its own problematic elements as well.  It’s certainly the LEAST FUN of the Purge sequels I’ve seen, but it seems to be that way by design.  After all, have you SEEN the world in the last few years!?

At this point I’m not sure if a Mad Max world is a WORSE outcome…

The Purge sequels have always had a finger on the pulse of American society and for me they do a darn good job at filtering meaningful messages through it’s over the top horror spectacle.  This one is no less relevant and should be praised for going as far as it does in making its leads as strong as they are and for taking such a strong and unwavering position against the people who seek to do harm to anyone unlike themselves, but the film itself that all of this is being filtered through just isn’t fun to watch.  It lacks the sizzle, the turns, the emotional highs and lows, even the goofy humor at points, that made these movies so iconic, and with an ending that feels pretty wishy washy about the whole state of things just makes this feel less like a true entry in the series and more like one of those grim reboots where you take something fun and campy and suck all the life out of it.  For those who never got the Purge movies’ excessive tone, perhaps this is the first one that will speak to you.  As someone who enjoys these movies when they’re trying to say something important AND ARE ALSO having fun with it, I can’t really recommend this one like I do the other sequels.  If you’re invested in the franchise it might be worth checking out for a matinee or waiting until a home release, but considering how much they had to backtrack just to make this one movie and it didn’t really hit the mark, it’s probably as good a time as any to let it end and try something new.  Maybe do one of those animated collection things like The Animatrix where you see the Purge from different viewpoints in different styles.  What, Supernatural gets an anime series but THIS can’t!?

2 out of 5

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