Joe’s Take

In 2013, “The Purge” hit theaters with an interesting concept. All crime in the United States, including murder, is legal for 12 hours. I was curious to see what the film could do with that as the main plot. Turned out not much. “The Purge” is more of a home invasion movie so the audience sees a very small part of The Purge. However, when your film costs $3 million and grosses $89 million at the box office (according to Box Office Mojo), you have a franchise regardless of the quality.

To the franchise’s credit, it rallied in 2014 with the best film in the series, “The Purge: Anarchy.” Led by the underappreciated Frank Grillo, “Anarchy” takes to the streets where the audience gets to see The Purge in full force. It also gives Grillo’s character a strong backstory. The flaw with “Anarchy” is it tries to sum up its social commentary in the last five minutes, clearly setting up a sequel. That left the movie a little incomplete. Still, it was a big improvement over the first film and made more money. “Anarchy” grossed $111 million against a $9 million production budget.

“The Purge: Election Year” and “The First Purge” didn’t entirely work. At least “Election Year” brought back Grillo and had a decent idea of a politician running on a platform against The Purge. “The First Purge” should have been the first movie. It would have made more sense when the concept was new instead of four films in. Despite the fact that they both made money (“Election Year” brought in $118 million off a $10 million budget, while “The First Purge” collected $137 million off a $13 million budget), I thought the franchise was dead. It had four movies to make the most of its concept and failed.

Enter “The Forever Purge.”

Somehow one of the strangest movie franchises and weirdest Fourth of July cinema traditions got one right.

The New Founding Fathers of America are back in power and reinstate The Purge after President Charlie Roan eliminated it at the end of “The Purge: Election Year.” In the past, The Purge showed a division between the classes of the U.S. It was used as a way to get rid of the poor and the homeless. In “The Forever Purge,” those who participate target immigrants and people of color. Although the film is on the nose of the present tension in the U.S., the story works. There’s nothing subtle about this film, but the franchise finally took its social commentary head on.

The movie starts with Mexicans crossing the border to Texas and then establishes their places in society. Adela (Ana de la Reguera) earns a prominent role at her job, while her husband Juan (Tenoch Huerta) and friend T.T. (Alejandro Edda) work on the Tucker family’s ranch. Most of the family, including Caleb Tucker (Will Patton), who runs the ranch, Harper Tucker (Leven Rambin), who has a romantic interest in T.T., and Cassidy Tucker (Cassidy Freeman) like Juan and T.T. However, a tension exists between Cassidy’s husband, Dylan Tucker (Josh Lucas), and Juan.

The main players survive The Purge, but quickly learn the usual 12-hour event isn’t over. Many started a movement on social media, with the Purge Purification Force at its center, to continue The Purge forever, or at least until those involved in the movement feel they have gotten rid of the people they deem as non-Americans. The NFFA’s Purge has backfired and the government must send in the military to regain control of the country. Maybe this social media movement wouldn’t have seemed so feasible if this movie was released a few years ago. However, U.S. civilians attacked the Capitol building six months ago, which wasn’t within the realm of possibility until Jan. 6.

The Tuckers, Juan, Adela and T.T. must work together to survive, while Dylan and Juan have to set aside their differences.

The writing and dialogue is better in this film than the others, which is strange because James DeMonaco wrote every film in the franchise. DeMonaco directed the first three, but stepped out of the chair for the last two. It proved a great move here as director Everardo Gout oversees the best filmed movie in the franchise. It even includes a sharp tracking shot through a war zone in El Paso that seamlessly transitions from one character to another. It’s one of many solid action sequences.

“The Forever Purge” also has the best actors since Grillo (because we’re just going to forget Marisa Tomei’s absurd appearance in “The First Purge”). De la Reguera, Lucas and Huerta create strong characters to follow throughout the film. They also fit their backgrounds. De la Reguera and Huerta’s characters are military trained and they look it, while Lucas looks more weapons trained, but not to the extent of military training. Small detail, but this has never been a franchise of small details.

Don’t get me wrong, the film is uneven like “Purge” movies before it. It tries to be a horror movie and an action movie simultaneously. The number of fake jump scares are absurd and outnumber the real jump scares. This is a dumb horror movie trope, which takes the audience out of the movie. The film loses more of the effect with every fake scare.

I also would have liked a little more development of Adela, Juan and T.T. They appear to have fled Mexico because of a drug cartel, but the film doesn’t address it much. Adela is a clear weapons expert and the film makes a big deal of it. She’s asked multiple times how she became so good at handling weapons. Of course, the buildup leads to a 20-second scene where she just tells the audience. The movie has to go one of two routes. Don’t make a big deal out of the fact that she’s military trained or show us why she is such a weapons expert. Don’t just tell the viewer.

That being said, “The Forever Purge” is now the gold standard for the franchise, proving sometimes the fifth time’s the charm? It has an on-the-nose, but clear social commentary that is very relevant today. It finally feels like a complete film with solid direction, writing and acting. I don’t know if this franchise will continue, but “The Forever Purge” made the case for why it can. Although it will be far from one of the best movies of the year, it may be one of the biggest pleasant surprises at 2021’s end.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Tenoch Huerta stars in “The Forever Purge.”

Rebecca’s Take

“The Purge” horror franchise confuses me. The films about a future America in which all crime is legal for 12 hours, including murder, have been hit-or-miss, starting with its mediocre debut, 2013’s “The Purge.”

However, the first film racked up $89 million in box-office receipts on a meager $3 million budget, becoming a certified hit and launching a money-making franchise. Each of the next three installments grossed more than the preceding one, ensuring the series could go on … well, forever.

This brings us to “The Forever Purge.” Against the odds of diminishing returns, the actioned-packed, socially conscious fifth film is the best entry in the franchise. It’s really good. The suspenseful installment is well-made and well-shot, finding the right balance of quality filmmaking, chilling horror and social commentary. Though it’s taken five films to get here, “The Forever Purge” finally gets the execution of its intriguing concept right.

The film acts as a direct sequel to 2016’s “The Purge: Election Year.” After that film effectively ended the Purge, “The Forever Purge” reinstates it with the reelection of the New Founding Fathers of America, the political party that started the annual blood-letting ritual.

Set in Texas near the southern border, the film follows the Tuckers, a family of ranchers led by patriarch Caleb (Will Patton) and his son, Dylan (Josh Lucas). The ranch employs Mexican migrants, whom Dylan looks down upon. Their farmhands include Juan (Tenoch Huerta), who crossed over to the United States with his wife, Adela (Ana de la Reguera), to seek a better life.

When the Purge commences, Dylan and his family, including his pregnant wife Cassidy (Cassidy Freeman) and sister Harper (Leven Rambin), stay locked up in their ranch for the night, while Juan and Adela find refuge with other migrants. But the morning after, a bloodthirsty group of marauders decide to keep the Purge going. With the “Ever After Purge” underway, Dylan and his family must join with Juan and Adela as they fight to survive a new world order.

My confusion with “The Purge” films lies with how uneven the installments are. Mostly a snoozer, “The Purge” barely scratched the surface of the class-based annihilation that targets the impoverished. The much-improved sequel “The Purge: Anarchy” (2014) – previously the franchise’s best – amped up the chaotic action and addressed the economic inequality while introducing a likable protagonist in Frank Grillo. The next film, 2016’s “The Purge: Election Year,” is a semi-satisfying follow-up that boxed in the franchise by ending the event at its core, forcing 2018’s underwhelming prequel “The First Purge” to feel out of place in the series.

Now, “The Forever Purge” brings together all the franchise’s key elements by flipping the formula. Instead of the atrocities occurring during the Purge, the real terror doesn’t begin until afterward, catching the protagonists off guard. Making his Hollywood film debut, director Everardo Gout skillfully commands the action. The tension-filled sequences make the most of the Texas landscape, from car chases on the windy roads lined with terrifying Purgers to hand-to-hand combat among the mountainous passages to the Mexican border. Gout even deploys 360-degree camera shots, making this the best-looking of the Purge films.

The sequel thrives as a Western-meets-horror hybrid. The Western setting calls back to the genre’s legendary showdowns between cowboys and outlaw gangs, often with a newcomer at the forefront. As the dissatisfied Purgers seek to claim the Tuckers’ ranch for themselves, newcomers Juan and Adela team up with the Tuckers, the established townsfolk, to fight back. On the horror side, the Purgers retain the creepy masks associated with the franchise, as well as their cruel methods. There’s plenty of gunfights, knife-play and an execution-style rampage that meet the quota of violence expected from the series.

In a franchise that can afford to delve more into social horror, “The Forever Purge” excels at exploring real-world issues. The sequel tackles the ongoing issue of immigration on the Mexican border head-on. The film points out the reelection of the NFFA stirred white supremacy, which our country saw grow in the last four years under President Donald Trump. Dylan’s resentment toward Juan and the other migrants reflects this attitude, and a “Purge Purification” truck hauntingly travels the streets. But the film also shows how someone like Dylan can change as circumstances force him and Juan on the same side. The film even explores reverse-immigration as Mexico opens its borders up to Americans seeking to flee the Purge as a refuge.

A solid cast boosts the film, giving us a group of heroes to root for. As Juan and Adela, Huerta and de la Reguera emerge as a power couple whose mysterious background primes them to fight back against the Purge. The charismatic Huerto evolves from an insightful ranch hand to a lethal cowboy. The fierce De la Reguera, who shined as a zombie-fighting warrior in “Army of the Dead,” masterfully works a gun right alongside her husband, pumping up her action resume. Lucas also makes a solid action lead here as Josh takes up arms to protect his family. Rambin shows grit as Harper, and Patton adds another strong character role under his belt.

“The Forever Purge” focuses more on action than on scares, which may deter some hard-core franchise fans. The kills and killers aren’t as over-the-top as past entries.

While the sequel does a good job of conveying its social commentary, it can be a bit on the nose with its messaging. Although the main group of characters is likable, the film doesn’t flesh them out as much as other films in the franchise have done.

I went into “The Forever Purge” not knowing what to expect, and I came out pleasantly surprised. The fifth time appears to be the charm in the franchise, with the latest sequel finally fulfilling the promise of the franchise’s concept. The Western-horror flick strikes the right blend of terror and social commentary with welcome panache under Gout’s vision.

Once again, I find myself confused because the film is being touted as the final one in the franchise. However, “The Forever Purge” opens several avenues for future installments. Now that the films have found their footing, I hope this isn’t the last we see of the Purge.

3.5 out of 5 stars