First and foremost, The Purge films are entertaining genre movies for cinema goers to sit back and enjoy. But given the nature of the narrative — for one night ever year, crime in made legal across the US — it’s hard for them not to present commentary on modern American politics.
The Forever Purge – the fifth film in the series — continues this trend, and when Yahoo spoke to writer James DeMonaco, who has been behind all Purge productions, he explained just how much Trumpism impacted on the latest film and the themes at play.
“The current landscape, whether I want to or not, whether it’s consciously or sub-consciously, just seeps into the writing,” DeMonaco told us. “The division that I’ve felt over the last few years, has seeped in through the pen and onto the computer, and comes out. It’s impossible not to have the current landscape inform the writing of it all.”
Watch a trailer for The Forever Purge
It was a real-life road-rage incident that sparked the initial idea for these movies. “My wife said this crazy thing that spawned this whole thing,” he explained.
“There was a crazy road rage incident where I was almost killed and I got into a fist fight with a guy. She said ‘I wish we all had one free one a year’. And I was like, what a dark thing to say. But it stayed with me for years.”
“Then several years later I was living in Paris for a year, and on a very practical level, I didn’t meet any Parisians who owned a gun. So many Americans own a gun, and America’s relationship with guns and violence is very different I think many other parts of the world. I didn’t spend that year in France and then come back to America, and see how we look at violence, and shootings and guns differently to the rest of the world, I don’t know if I’d have put those two things together: what my wife said, and the thoughts I had on America’s relationship with violence.”
Despite the Purge movies having so much to say about politics and society (the latest film looks at immigration in America) DeMonaco makes it clear that his films are never intended to preach to the audience.
“First and foremost I always say that I don’t want to preach to the audience or hit people over the head. I think most people come to these movies to be horrified and hopefully this a fun horror, thriller, crazy dystopian thing being released in the summer by Universal. And then, I think we try to sneak in some socio-political themes.”
“Look, it’s a political conceit The Purge, so it’s impossible to avoid the socio-political underpinning that comes with it. We read years ago something Martin Scorsese said, which is ‘Smugglers Cinema’ when referring to studio directors, the contract directors like Anthony Mann, John Ford, who were forced to make war movies and Westerns, that’s all the studios wanted and these guys were getting sick of making them. So they started sneaking in these socio-political thoughts into these genre pieces. I think John Carpenter did this, and I was a John Carpenter freak growing up.”
“I always said we wanted to continue this Smuggler’s Cinema and hopefully give a rollercoaster ride genre films for the audience, but for those who want it, there’s a commentary about the political landscape, particularly in America right now, that an audience who want that, can grab it and play with it. But some audiences don’t want it, they just wanna have the fun, and hopefully we’re giving them what they want also. It’s kind of a juggling act.”
Having fun is one thing, but it can’t be denied that these movies offer a dark and twisted take on the human psyche. And this is a fascinating area for DeMonaco to explore, as he admits that the violent tendencies and fantasies scare him.
“Man, that’s what scares the hell out of me the most, I think I’ve wrestled with that my whole life; what is the human proclivity towards violence?” he said. “I grew up with a great family, but around me, I grew up in a world that was populated by a lot of mobsters and Staten Island is notorious for having the most Italian mobsters of any population anywhere in the world. We were constantly hearing stories of violence, constantly. I was always drawn to humans and their need to answer questions with violence.”
“I think The Purge is oddly schizophrenic because I always try to end with harmony and hope, yet what I am depicting throughout is probably the worst part of human nature, which is this need to answer problems with violence. But people do wrestle with this idea of what they would do on Purge night. Would they pick up a knife to solve a problem they’ve had for a year? That’s a scary freaking thought about human nature though, right? But it’s one that I think fascinates us about the concept.”
Given the dark themes, DeMonaco said he anticipated the original Purge movie would be too dark for a mainstream release — until of course, acclaimed producer Jason Blum saw potential within this universe.
“I thought it was so dark it would be relegated to independent cinemas,” he said, admitting he never would’ve believed he would be sat here, chatting about a fifth film in the series.
“We thought it was so dark it would be this tiny Michael Haneke-like Funny Games thriller in a house that we’d shoot somewhere in my hometown of Staten Island, and then it wasn’t until Jason Blum got involved and he saw the universal appeal of the conceit and he somehow convinced Universal to finance it, distribute it. So we did not see this happening.”
For his part, Jason Blum says he thought The Purge just felt like something could relate to.
“I just loved this idea of what if crime was legal for 12 hours a year,” Blum explained.
"It’s such a huge idea. Who doesn’t think ‘if I could only break the law’? Even if it’s just a speed limit, or stealing a sandwich, whatever, I mean hopefully not everybody would think if it was legal they would go out and kill people, I hope, but I think it’s a great universally appealing idea,” before he finished.
“It’s also very rich, in a society where that exists, there are an infinite amount of stories to tell, so I had faith it would go beyond the indie world.”
The Forever Purge is in UK cinemas from 16 July.
Watch: The Purge siren causes coronavirus controversy