2021 | rated R | starring Ana de la Reguera, Josh Lucas, Cassidy Freeman | directed by Evreardo Gout | 1 hr 47 mins |

The Forever Purge reminded me a lot of Saw 6. After several years of sequels of increasingly diminished returns, the national debate over healthcare fell right into the wheelhouse of a horror series about people being forced to chose who lives and who dies. Saw 6 seized on it and the result is a late-series gem where the franchise pulled all of it’s desperate pieces together just right and finds a way to be relevant again. The Forever Purge takes a natural expansion of the Purge concept into a real world debate about immigration and slaps it on a trendy Yellowstone-inspired modern western. The Purge has always been a frustrating series, it’s fascinating idea usually turned into disappointing movies that would rather delver exploitation violence and blunt-dumb political messages than explore the ramifications of the world it’s building, but The Forever Purge feels like the work of filmmaking lessons learned from past films, yes it still has all of those dodgy elements, but they fit together for a smoother, more riveting production this time. For what is reportedly the last film in the series (but who knows), it looks like writer/creator James DeMonaco finally got all the ingredients lined up right.

Now in the year 2048, in this year’s annual purge we follow the wealthy Texas farm family of the Tuckers, father Dylan (Josh Lucas), pregnant wife Cassidy (Cassidy Freeman) and grandfather Caleb (Will Patton) getting ready to quarantine for purge night. On the other end of the economic spectrum, we have illegal immigrant Adela (Ana de la Reguera) who joins a group of migrants in Austin behind a walled sanctuary. As Purge Night ends and dawn brings the clean-up, with gates up and defenses down, violence suddenly breaks out all over the country. A group of extremists, organized only, known as the Forever After Purge use the opportunity to attack rich, poor and even (gasp) politicians alike. As the Tucker’s flee for safety, picking up Adela and her father in the process, it seems there is no safe place. Mexico and Canada temporarily open their borders to refuges and the Tuckers race to Juarez before the borders are shut forever and they are left behind in a collapsing America.

The Purge franchise is so dumb and tone-deaf so often it’s unclear to me if it’s pension for murder and madness just wandered into relevant political atmosphere where incompetent leadership is tearing the United States apart or if genuinely has it’s finger on the pulse of national divorce sentiment. This is, after all, a franchise that laments the country’s treatment of black citizens while itself murdering them off and refusing to let them be heroes (The Purge: Election Year). Still, director Evreardo Gout creates the perfect atmosphere here, effectively using the film’s budget to convey the scope of a country collapsing in flames all around our characters. It’s frightening (finally this horror franchise manages to be scary), how simply it lays out the steps that tip the balance of power and bring down one system at a time. Institutions of safety are overrun quickly, power is brought down, cities burn endlessly and the only way out is to flee.

Which turns this Purge into a road trip movie, an opportunity to detail it’s usual creative psychopaths in outlandish costume with a classic ticking clock tension. This is simply one of the cleanest thrillers I’ve seen recently, lined up with set-ups and payoffs, even narrowing down to a tangible villain in the third act to give our heroes someone to fight when it’s overall dangers has become too large and intangible. It’s satire is as simple as the irony of Americans break over the border into Mexico – like that scene in The Day After Tomorrow where the freeze sends American swamping the southern border. However, it’s also a case of the movie trying to cram together two things that don’t quite fit. That immigration is still an issue in 2049 in a world where America is such a dystopia that we have an annual murder day and spend the aftermath cleaning blood off windows and bodies off the sidewalk and people are still fleeing Mexico to get into America begs the question – what the hell is going on in Mexico?

Solid, fun, simply well put together and just outrageous and entertaining enough, The Forever Purge might be my favorite entry in a franchise that has always had a great idea on the tip of it’s tongue but has never quite had the budget or imagination to realize it. It’s still blood-lust exploitation that thinks it is smarter than it is, but in this movie, I felt it’s frightening scope. With the Purge hype died down and the series out of the spotlight, Forever Purge delivers it’s best entry yet.