Josh Lucas stars in "The Forever Purge" directed by Everardo Gout. (Image: Universal Pictures)

The fifth and final installment of “The Purge” franchise takes place in Texas and boy does it feel like it’s torn from today’s headlines. Franchise creator-writer James DeMonaco takes the dystopian franchise and suddenly makes it seem all too real by blending horror and science fiction with social commentary. “The Forever Purge” is brimming with white supremacist groups hell-bent on taking back “their” country who decide that 12 lawless hours is not enough time to wipe out anyone whose skin color is darker than their own. Mexican-American director Everardo Gout (“Days of Grace”) adds authenticity to the story as the series comes full circle.

Recently the Lone Star State gained national recognition thanks to the immigration crisis and the pursuit of Second Amendment rights. Just another day in Texas? Over the last few years, our fair state has become accustomed to controversy over topics that include the separation of immigrant families, the Border Wall, politicians connected to the US Capitol riot, and Gov. Greg Abbott’s constitutional carry law that gives Texans the right to carry a handgun without a license or training starting Sept. 1. Depending on which side of the fence you fall on regarding these issues, it’s easy to see how some people would tend to believe The Purge has already begun where the stars at night are big and bright. There’s also no way you can watch “The Forever Purge” without being reminded of the controversies facing our nation which works in favor of the film. I actually became more invested in DeMonaco’s story thanks to the Texas setting. Of course, I’m also a lifelong resident.

Everardo Gout does a fantastic job of keeping the momentum up by balancing the action sequences with scenes of rising tension all while staying true to his heritage by keeping the films cultural aspect as credible as possible, the dialogue doesn’t come off as superficial and thanks to the cast the main characters aren’t one-dimensional figures.

The first “Purge” film released eight years ago starred Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey from “Game of Thrones” as a wealthy couple whose security systems company benefitted from the annual event where crime, including murder, is legal from sundown to sunup. Class warfare played a role in the introductory film as it does once again in this final installment.

The wealth here belongs to the hard-working Tucker family whose sprawling ranch located in Los Feliz Valley, Texas is run by Dylan (Josh Lucas), an honest but prideful man who undergoes a transformation during the story. Will Patton, coming off a heartwarming performance in “Minari” once again plays a genial and caring character as family patriarch Caleb who treats all the ranch hands fairly even the undocumented workers including Juan (Tenoch Huerta from Gout’s “Days of Grace”) who manages to get a wild stallion under control after Dylan fails.

Later in the film, Dylan informs his wife Cassidy (Cassidy Freeman, HBO’s “The Righteous Gemstones”) that he doesn’t want their kids speaking Spanish in the house. This does not make him a racist, he’s just upset that Juan showed him up in front of the other hands and his father. Eventually, his redeeming qualities shine as his family fights alongside Juan and his wife Adela (Ana de la Reguera) as the purgers treat the wealthy and people of color equally, as targets.

Over the course of three sequels the franchise lost its star power — although the always reliable Frank Grillo proved to be the only familiar face needed to keep it interesting — now, the series returns with familiar faces, Josh Lucas and Will Patton. And while the notable actors are welcomed in this final installment, it’s the first-rate performances by Ana de la Reguera (Sister Encarnación in “Nacho Libre” and Maria Cruz in “Army of the Dead”) and Tenoch Huerta (“Sin Nombre” and the Netflix series “Narcos: Mexico”) that give the film it’s strength.

“The Forever Purge” is the best film of the franchise and most audiences seem to agree as the film holds a score of 79% on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics, however, remain divided. And while the film manages to reflect on current events, by doing so it is also breaking the over-the-top dystopian rules set by DeMonaco who wrote all five films and directed the first three. I should also point out that despite its eerie reflection of the times, the film never gets political. In the end, this is another horror entry in the series that recalls “Mad Max: Fury Road” as the finale takes place at the border on the outskirts of El Paso.

Can you walk blindly into this film without any knowledge of the other 4 films? Yes, of course especially since a big chunk of history is missing. In 2016’s “The Purge: Election Year,” Senator Charlene Roan had just been elected President after vowing to end the annual Purge event. Fast forward to “The Forever Purge” and she’s out, the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA), the party responsible for enacting the first Purge, are back in and they quickly reinstate the lawless event.

If you’re a fan of the franchise or a newbie, either way, you really want to see this film because Ana de la Reguera is a badass. Case closed.

(3 stars)

Now showing in theaters

Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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