This week, The Guide sat down with James DeMonaco, the writer, director and creator of “The Purge” franchise, “Staten Island” and an upcoming horror project entitled “The Home” that will star Pete Davidson.
“The Purge” imagines an alternate America in which on one day out of every year, all crime is legal — theft, assault and, most notably, murder. This intriguing premise has spawned six different films and earned the parent studio, Universal, millions of dollars. It has become an enduring symbol of modern horror cinema.
Yet, DeMonaco admits that the first “Purge,” for all of its strengths, almost didn’t get produced.
“Jason Blum loved my first film — ‘Staten Island,’” DeMonaco told The Hoya. “Universal knew me as a writer, but they were still completely thrown by this art film. They said basically ‘Oh we don’t want another art film at Universal.’”
To assuage any fears about the marketability of “The Purge,” Universal brought in Michael Bay, the veteran director behind “Transformers” and “Armageddon,” to oversee “The Purge’s” production. DeMonaco recounts the decision as follows:
“Jason Blum said ‘What if I get a big commercial director to vouch for James?’ So Blum called Michael Bay and Bay came on as a producer — he also liked Staten Island. I mean, I shook his hand once and never saw him again. But his presence and his name got the studio to say yes.”.
However, even after it was greenlit, “The Purge” faced additional changes handed down from above.
DeMonaco said that originally, one of the first film’s main characters — wealthy home security salesman James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) — was meant to have purchased another man, with the intention of killing him on Purge night.
“‘The Purge’ was always a morality tale about a society that releasing anger through murder and crime will make us a more peaceful society in the long run,” DeMonaco said. “Sandin [Hawke’s character] is already duplicitous in his morality in that he’s profiting off of the Purge, but I thought he needed to ‘purge’ himself.”
Despite DeMonaco’s endorsement, Universal deemed the plotline too superfluously dark, and it was cut from the final version of the film. This, naturally, led to a broader question regarding darkness in horror movies. When is something simply too disturbing for the big screen? What’s the line between the artful curation of terror and straight-up torture porn?
DeMonaco’s response is measured, acknowledging the dueling obligations of movie studios.
“The broad audience doesn’t want to see their heroes and heroines doing things in a morally gray area. I see what they’re saying—they want to maximize their profits. Yet, I also love movies where things aren’t so black and white. So there’s this constant battle.”
DeMonaco shifted from discussing “The Purge” to talking about “The Home,” the aforementioned upcoming psychological horror project, produced by Miramax. DeMonaco described it as “‘Rosemary’s Baby’ meets ‘Get Out,’” a tantalizing proposition for any fan of the genre.
“Pete Davidson’s character is a wayward young man who gets arrested and instead of jail time, he’s made the janitor of an old age facility way out in the forest,” DeMonac said. “And as he gets there he slowly starts to uncover that there’s something very sinister in the place.”
At first glance, it’s a premise pleasantly reminiscent of “A Cure for Wellness,” the 2017 20th Century Studios production. DeMonaco’s film, though, is expected to carry even more philosophical freight, true to the legacy of “The Purge.”
“I like to infuse socio-political stuff into everything I do. And the whole thing’s a metaphor for a very topical subject. I’m hoping the audience sees that because it’s a little more understated. ‘The Purge’ wasn’t so subtle, but ‘The Home’ definitely will be,” DeMonaco said.
A release date for “The Home” has yet to be selected, but it has already begun to make its rounds at the Toronto Film Festival and is likely to be available to viewers sometime in 2024.
Of course, along with most of Hollywood, DeMonaco acknowledged that the ongoing writer’s strike has introduced a new variable into the process of filmmaking, conceding that:
“It’s a strange time between the strike and the atmosphere of the moment. It’s hard to tell where a movie will end up sometimes.”
“I think everything we’re asking for as writers is valid. The actual cost to the studio we’re asking about doesn’t seem like a lot,” he said. “
Nevertheless, despite the soundness of the writers’ demands, DeMonaco still voiced concerns about the future of the strike and the status of the studio’s negotiations.
“My sad fear is that this will go on longer than anyone wanted,” DeMonaco said. “Something’s got to break, and I don’t know which side is going to yield.”
As the interview drew to a close, I asked DeMonaco two final questions: what does the future of the film industry look like? How can we expect our moviegoing experience to develop in the years to come? His answer hinged on the idea of films as — to borrow DeMonaco’s — “events,” à la the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon that blew up (pun intended) the summer box office.
“The future of movies will only exist if they become events, like a must-see. That’s why ‘The Purge’ movies worked, it felt like an event with the sirens and this new holiday, this one day a year where you can do anything you want.”
Be sure to keep a lookout for “The Home,” and keep in mind (hint hint) that “The Purge” is free to stream on Hulu and Peacock.