It started out with a pretty simple idea, right? Create one night a year where everyone can do whatever they want in order to blow off their worst impulses so that they will live as peaceable law-abiding citizens the rest of the year. What could go wrong? Obviously, quite a lot and over its various film and television incarnations, the Purge series has seen its central idea expand and expand until we get to The Forever Purge.
Escaping the cities of the previous films for El Paso, families hunker down for Purge Night individually or in groups depending on their socioeconomic status and how much protection they can afford. After the night ends and people emerge back out into the sunlight, however, they quickly discover the Purge has not disappeared with it.
The disaffected throughout America have decided one night is not enough to exorcise their grievances against whichever groups they have an issue with — migrant workers, rich landowners, whomever — and have banded together to create the Purge Ever After until America is free of everything and everyone that might drag it down.
To quote Simon Bishop: “It’s not a subtle point you’re making here.”
The weakness, if you can call it that, of the Purge concept was the nugget of idealism wrapped up inside of its cynicism. That the individuals who wanted to partake in a night of violence and debauchery would return to something like a ‘normal’ life and wait an entire year before doing so again.
The Forever Purge takes the next logical step of assuming that once the Pandora’s box was opened it wouldn’t be possible to close it.
In that grand design there is something of genius to it, showing it as an attempt by the state to mainstream support for autocracy and the slow-moving horror of being trapped in that situation as the extreme becomes normalized. In the specific moments of it, it’s a bit repetitive and difficult to develop real tension.
That’s not specific to the Purge films but generally true of any series where larger ideological points are more important than the vehicle for them. The Purge series has just become more and more authentically itself with each iteration and The Forever Purge is the most unsubtly political of them all. And that includes the one with “Election Year” in the title.
On one hand, The Forever Purge does do some real experimentation with its central conceit — something that happens rarely in genre franchises — particularly in moving much of the action into the light of day. This exposes how silly much of it looks — an early attack is made by individuals in ‘scary bunny costumes’ — which is very much the point.
The idea of the purge is ridiculous and so are the people who would take part, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. It also makes its themes more overt than ever, reducing its mob of faceless killers to even more of an abstract, with the heroes facing sortie after sortie of attackers rather than one central villain, each with a focus on a different boogieman from socioeconomic anxiety to out-and-out racism.
In the process they reduce the heroes down to similar abstracts even while putting together one of the series’ better casts, including Will Patton as a wealthy but open-minded rancher and Josh Lucas as his more embittered son. When the Ever After Purge gets going, Lucas and clan (including a pregnant wife just this close to labor) must hook up with his immigrant ranch-hand (Tenoch Huerta) who fled a drug cartel in Mexico, and together make for the border and safety.
If you think you can guess how their perspectives shift and what happens to them, you are probably right. The Purge series, and certainly The Forever Purge, are not here to offer the twists and turns of a typical thriller. It is here to build a specific thematic point about modern American society and, except for the rare sacrificial lamb, play that point out to its conclusion. Even if that makes everything that comes after a foregone conclusion.
If The Forever Purge truly is the final send off for the series, it’s a strange one. It’s not the biggest or the best even as it tries to paint on the biggest canvas.
Its characters are too enmeshed in being vehicles for political points to be real people, but in that way and in its commitment to its theme above and beyond anything else, it may be the Purgiest one yet.
THE FOREVER PURGE REVIEW SCORE: 6/10
Directed by Everardo Gout, the film stars Ana de la Reguera as Adela, Tenoch Huerta as Juan, Josh Lucas as Dylan Tucker, Cassidy Freeman as Emma Kate Tucker, Leven Rambin as Harper Tucker, and Will Patton as Caleb Tucker. Universal Pictures will release The Forever Purge in theaters on July 2.