The Purge Director Believes Horror Became Too Real

The Purge Director Believes Horror Became Too Real

In a recent interview, James DeMonaco, the director behind the dystopian horror series “The Purge,” expressed his growing discomfort with the franchise’s premise, stating that the horrors depicted in the films have become too real. DeMonaco’s 2013 film introduced audiences to a chilling concept: one night a year, all crime, including murder, is legal. This night, known as Purge Night, is intended to allow citizens to release their pent-up aggression, theoretically leading to a more peaceful society for the rest of the year.

The film, starring Ethan Hawke as a wealthy security system salesman, was a commercial success, grossing over $91 million on a modest $3 million budget. Its success spawned four sequels and a television series, each exploring the socio-political implications of a society that sanctions such extreme violence. However, DeMonaco, who directed the first three films, stepped away from directing the later installments and the TV series, citing the increasingly disturbing parallels between his fictional world and real-life events.

DeMonaco’s inspiration for “The Purge” came from a personal experience. While driving in Brooklyn, an aggressive driver provoked a casual yet chilling remark from his wife, who wished for one legal murder per year to deal with such individuals. This offhand comment sparked the idea for the screenplay. Initially, the concept was an intellectual exercise, a thought experiment about human nature and societal structures.

However, the political climate during the Trump administration, marked by a rise in politically motivated violence and divisive rhetoric, made the fictional premise of “The Purge” feel unsettlingly plausible. DeMonaco noted that the abstraction of his idea had vanished, replaced by a disturbing reality where the notion of a real-life Purge seemed conceivable to some. This realization led him to distance himself from directing further installments, as the line between fiction and reality blurred uncomfortably.

In a 2018 interview, DeMonaco expressed his dismay at the state of the country, where the idea of a Purge felt like a genuine possibility. He was particularly troubled by the government’s actions, such as the separation of children from their parents at the American-Mexican border, which he saw as a form of state-sanctioned cruelty. While he didn’t believe a Purge would actually happen, the increasing normalization of violence and hostility in society deeply saddened him.

DeMonaco’s concerns were further validated by the events of January 6, 2021, when the U.S. Capitol was stormed by a violent mob. This real-life insurrection echoed the themes of “The Purge,” where societal breakdown and lawlessness are central. In “The Forever Purge,” released in 2021, the concept was taken to an extreme, with the Purge being unlawfully extended indefinitely by a group of extremists, reflecting the ongoing political and social turmoil.

Despite his reservations, DeMonaco’s films continue to resonate with audiences, serving as a cautionary tale about the dangers of unchecked violence and societal division. The franchise’s exploration of classism, racism, and inequality remains relevant, highlighting the disparities between the wealthy, who can afford protection, and the impoverished, who are left vulnerable.

DeMonaco’s decision to exclude Queer characters from the franchise has also sparked discussion. Some argue that the lack of Queerness in the films is a deliberate choice to avoid depicting additional trauma for a community already facing significant violence and discrimination. Others feel that the absence of Queer representation leaves the films feeling incomplete, as they fail to fully capture the diverse experiences of marginalized groups.

Ultimately, DeMonaco’s work on “The Purge” reflects his deep concern for the state of society and his desire to provoke thought and discussion about the consequences of violence and inequality. While the films may be unsettlingly prescient, they also serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of empathy, justice, and the need to address the root causes of societal unrest.

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