Multi-hyphenate James DeMonaco has been the driving force behind The Purge franchise now for nearly eight years and five films under his belt. Not only has he written all of the movies in the series, but he also directed the first three films and collaborated directly with the directors at the helm of the last two Purge entries - The First Purge and now, The Forever Purge, which is set to hit theaters this Friday, July 2nd, courtesy of Universal Pictures.
During the recent press day for The Forever Purge, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with DeMonaco in depth about all sorts of Purge-related business, including the prescient nature of all of the films in comparison to recent political events in the United States, his approach to the story of The Forever Purge, collaborating with director Everardo Gout on this latest Purge film, and how if all things go well with this fifth entry in the franchise, we could possibly get one final Purge film in the future.
This has been quite a journey for you guys now, for almost eight years now. I rewatched the entire series before watching The Forever Purge, because I wanted to dig back into everything. And first of all, these films are startling in a lot of ways that I was not expecting. They were startling when they were released, but it's even worse now. From your perspective, when you first embarked on the Purge series, could you have ever imagined just how closely a lot of these themes that you were exploring in these movies would end up paralleling the trajectory of our country? Because it's really uncanny.
James DeMonaco: Yeah, I could never have imagined this, honestly. It's so funny, Sébastien [Lemercier] and Jason [Blum] always say I'm like the Nostradamus of the horror/sci-fi/action world and my writing predicts the future. Jason's always just like, "Can't you write happy things, so happy things start happening in the future?" And I'm like, "I wish. I should, if this is some kind of a forecast of what's coming." But no, obviously, I'm not telling the future. I'm not a fortune teller, but I guess I saw seeds of discontent that I was playing upon, that's out there in the body politic. There was some kind of discord and discontent. But it's weird, because the first one was written under the Obama administration and then everything else was written under the previous administration.
So it is very strange though, that's all I could say. Especially after January 6th, where it got even stranger. And so many people called me and said, "Oh my God, it feels like you made the movie after January. It doesn't make sense." And this uncontainable force that was created by a government, and that's what part five is about, in a way. Yeah, it’s very strange. I don't know how to interpret it, I don't know what to say. It's quite unfortunate, though. I wish the world was a harmonious place and had no resemblance to The Purge landscape, but it does. I always try to say, first and foremost, The Purge films are horror, sci-fi, fun, crazy, dystopian thrillers, but it's undeniable that there are these parallels that have occurred because of this discord that exists in society. It's very strange.
I wanted to talk about the story for The Forever Purge. What I really appreciate about this series is that every movie is very different. The Purge is the same throughout, but I really like that you use different lenses to approach the concept of The Purge, and examine it from different angles. Could you discuss your approach to the story for this one? Because you're talking about migrant issues, and border patrol issues and things like that, which again, differentiates this story from everything that we've seen prior to The Forever Purge.
James DeMonaco: Yeah, it's interesting how this one came about. It's strange because I started out, and this made everyone crazy at first, but I was like, "I want to do a love story." And they were like, "What? What the hell are you talking about?" I'm like, "No, no. I've got this image in my head of this Mexican couple madly in love, and they're coming up from Mexico and they want to explore the American dream. Is the dream still alive? Is it alive for them? Is it not alive for people like them?" So it was this exploration through this loving couple, so this kind of love story. Everybody was like, "What are you talking about?" This was at the time of the border crisis, so that was in my head obviously because we were all watching the news of what was going on in the previous administration's policies on the border. And then it hit me. I also knew if we were doing five, we had to flip The Purge. I didn't want to just do 12 more hours. I'm like, "This is just becoming too repetitive. We've got to shake it up. It’s time to shake it up and really turn it upside down."
I woke up one day going, "Well, purgers don't listen to rules. This is a night of lawlessness, and no rules. They're not going to listen to the sirens." And then it hit me, "Oh, they don't stop." It became about this uncontainable hatred. I've always said, "When you light this fuse of hatred and violence, how can you contain it?" That was always in the back of my head in all The Purge movies, that it was almost like a virus that was spreading. That was the idea in the fifth one; it's spread so much, it's out of control, and you can't just stop it with some sirens. They're going to keep going. I always said it was almost like a zombie movie, where it was like the country is falling apart because the virus has spread everywhere.
So coupling that with the love story I wanted and everything that was happening with the border crisis, I think it all coalesced into this almost cyclical story then, where America became the refuge in the beginning for the couple, then it became the place to retreat from, and then flipping everything on its head where Mexico then became the safe haven. So it’s this cyclical dream that they were living, going back to where they started, bringing Americans with them and having the first American dreamers born in Mexico and all this crazy stuff that was coming together at that point, too.
I don't think it's any secret that there is a lot of division in our country right now. I'm curious, when you're doing stories like this and you have to be genuine to what you want to write, the stories you want to tell, but you're dealing with issues where there are these very different sides, how do you walk that line in terms of trying to do something where you're staying conscientious of the story, but you're not alienating people? Because there are people out there who will see this and some are going to really appreciate what you've done here, and then there is going to be a percentage of people who are going to be pissed off.
Yes, indeed. Absolutely. And that's inevitable. So they're going to look at it, they're going to take offense to something we've done here. But I agree with you. It's undeniable that sci-fi and horror, specifically, have been amazing vessels to socio-political content. George Romero was the master at this, Carpenter was amazing, and the list goes on and on. I read this quote years ago that Sébastien, my producer, and I always talk about, where Scorsese called it "smugglers cinema" from the forties and fifties. All the studio directors, they were under contract to keep making westerns and war movies, and they didn't want to. They'd made so many and they were like, "Okay, this is terrible. We don't want to do it." So what they, Anthony Mann and John Ford, did to keep themselves inspired was to smuggle socio-political ideas into these standard westerns and war movies. We loved this idea of smugglers cinema, and I always thought Carpenter and Romero did it amazingly.
We wanted to continue the history of that, where we were coming into The Purge like, "Let's make great thrill rides, something that'll really just keep the audience on the edge of their seats and keep this horror and action thriller going, but smuggling socio-political ideas into it," because ultimately it is a political conceit. We're saying The Purge has been created by a corrupt regime, The New Founding Fathers, ultimately to eliminate the disenfranchised because they don't want to pay for them anymore. They're selling it as a societal catharsis, to "make yourself better", but that's a psychological ruse. But you're absolutely right; how do we maintain that balance between pissing off a certain portion of the citizenry, while also making another part happier? I think we always say, "We want to present good people on both sides of the coin." Even Josh Lucas in this movie, at some point I hope people come to see his path, that he's evolving, so they realize that we're not demonizing any specific section.
It's fascinating. One day I'd love to write a book on all the audience reactions to The Purge movies, because it has truly been the most eye opening thing I've seen over the years, on who completely ignores the political content. Many people do, and they just enjoy the thrill ride of it. Then there are the people who sit there and see it as a metaphor for the disenfranchised in America. They see the racial inequality, the racial issues, the income inequality that we're speaking to, and some people don't see that at all. That's a fascinating analysis I'd love to do one day.
You mentioned Josh Lucas's character, and there's a moment when he's sitting there with Tenoch’s [Huerta] character and, to bluntly put it, they're cutting the shit and they're talking out their issues. For me, I thought that was a really interesting moment, because I've felt like in the last few years people just feel like they're shouting over each other, especially online and it just seems like people don't have conversations anymore. I know that you want people to come away from The Forever Purge entertained, but are you hoping that maybe in some ways this could help open up a dialogue in some fashion?
James DeMonaco: Oh, yeah. I don't want to oversell what the movie can do, but in a perfect world, if five people leave and say, "God, if we just spoke to each other, we might be able to just come together. I know there might be some more harmony that we could achieve, instead of constantly being at each other's throats and shouting." Right now, all that's making the headlines is the shouting on both sides. No one's really sitting down and talking to each other. I couldn't agree with you more.
And that scene speaks to that specifically. I'm so happy you brought that scene up because it's my favorite scene in the movie. It's two people just saying, "Hey, let's cut the shit. Let's talk." And that's a nice thing, I think, because we don't have that in society anymore. True discourse has been so polluted, and it'd be great if people could just talk in certain cases. And again, I don't want to oversell the potential power of a film, but if some people left and said, "Hey, maybe we can just quietly speak to each other about our differences," that would be a nice place to get to.
I wanted to ask about Everardo, who directed the film. When he came on board to direct this, can you talk about working with him? Did you sort of just hand him the script, say, "I want to get your perspective on this," and let him go for it? How closely did you guys work together?
James DeMonaco: We worked really closely together. It was fantastic. It was one of the best partnerships I've ever had in that it was exactly what I wanted, which is, I always say, "The script is a foundation, it's a blueprint. Now, we need to color it in. We need to bring all that stuff in and really make this real and rich." I was like, "Okay, I'm an Italian kid from New York. We need a new perspective here. Yeah, maybe I did okay on the script. Now tell me what I did wrong, I want to hear where I screwed up. Tell me." And I said, "Everardo, I want us to be brutally honest with each other."
And he was great. He'd be like, "DeMonaco, Mexican people would never describe America that way. We wouldn't say these words. This is bullshit." And it was great. We talk with our hands, both of us, and we drank a lot of tequila together. And it was these honest conversations, hoping to get to a place that felt real between real Mexican people, and real white people, on a ranch. How can we get to both these places that feel authentic? It was a great partnership, in that I could never have gotten there alone, and Everardo was a perfect partner to bring that authenticity of the Mexican experience into the movie.
I think it's really great that for this film and for The First Purge that you went with directors of color. Because I think with the stories that you were telling in these films, I think it's important to have those perspectives at the helm. Was that your mindset, in terms of just stepping back a little bit and just focusing on the story so that you could give others the opportunity to bring these stories to the big screen?
Yeah, exactly. You couldn't have said it any better. It was time to have a perspective, especially since we were going so deeply into a more African-American experience on four, and then into the Mexican experience coupled with the white family on five. Again, my script was just a blueprint, and now we needed someone to come in and make that script real. These stories needed those authentic voices to come in and tell those stories, and I think both guys did a great job.
I won't give away where we end things with The Forever Purge, but it's not what I was expecting. So, is this it for The Purge series, or do you feel like there is still one last story to wrap everything up?
James DeMonaco: I'm happy you asked that, because I'm allowed to say it now. I wasn't allowed to a couple of days ago. So four months ago, I would've said, "Definitely, that's the end of it." But then I woke up three and a half months ago, and I was like, "Oh, I have an idea. Oh my God." It was an "Oh, shit" moment like, "Oh, I don't know if I want another idea," but I had it. I pitched it to my producers, Sébastien and Jason. They both really liked it, Universal liked it, so I think I'm going to write the next one, and if the audience wants it, we’ll do it. I always say if the cinema gods want us to do it, they'll tell us, "Let's proceed."
Again, I think I came up with a new way to flip the whole thing upside down, and it'll be five years after this film, but it takes America in a whole new direction and I think it would be a very interesting place to explore. It also brings back a character from the previous films, which is fun. So if everything comes together nicely, which we know anything can happen, one last Purge movie would be something we would maybe shoot next year, potentially.