Yes, the Director of ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ Has Heard Your Complaints About the First ‘Purge’ Movie
James DeMonaco is well aware of your complaints. Yes, the first installment of ‘The Purge’ (which DeMonaco directed) was a box office behemoth, grossing just under $90 million on a budget of only $3 million. ‘The Purge’ should have been a feel-good success story … and then those CinemaScore numbers rolling in and, as it turns out, the audience that showed up to see ‘The Purge” wound up kind of despising ‘The Purge.’ It’s really hard to get a bad CinemaScore (even Adam Sandler movies get a good CinemaScore). Basically, an audience has to feel tricked and, yeah, that’s kind of what happened.
The Purge itself is an endlessly interesting concept. Set in the near future, the film imagines that, for one night a year each March in the United States, all crime is legal. The new sequel, ‘The Purge: Anarchy,’ explores a lot of these themes and shows us what life is like on the streets of L.A. as we follow a group of strangers (led by Frank Grillo) who are just trying to survive (well, except for Grillo’s Leo Barns, who has revenge on his docket as well). This is in contrast to the first movie, which takes place entirely in a house. Which, to be fair, on a $3 million budget, there weren’t a ton of other options.
Regardless, it’s kind of fascinating to listen to DeMonaco spin the tale of having a hit film that no one seemed to like very much — and, now, that he finally has the budget to fully realize his idea, how he’s hoping to win people back.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the first ‘Purge’ movie. The concept was amazing, but it was a home invasion movie.
I understood the frustration on the first one. If I saw that movie, I’d be frustrated. Because you’re promising this nationwide concept, but you’re only giving me this. At first they wanted to give me an even smaller budget and I was like, “I can’t do it. You want to one-up the first one and you’re not allowing me to do that.”
Which would increase the criticism.
I watched the first cut of the first film and I remember saying, “It’s too claustrophobic.” I don’t know if you remember the credit sequence, so I made that credit sequence of security images of people being killed — which is the best part of the movie.
And as a viewer you watch that scene and think, Hot damn, here we go…
And then you’re in a house. I know. So, I hopefully took a cue from that.
The movie made a lot of money.
But it got a really low Cinemascore, which is hard to do. It’s basically someone saying “I got tricked.”
It pissed people off, the movie.
How do you win the audience back?
We saw it in the focus groups this time — it tested really high, which is great. But, in the focus group, the anger toward the first one, I couldn’t believe it.
What were they saying?
“Oh, this is 800 times better. The first one pissed me off.” With this one, not only does the trailer promise what was intended and kind of promised — or you hope for — It’s also a movie about sympathetic people.
In this one, there are characters we are rooting for.
In the first one, these are people making money off of The Purge [by selling home security systems]. They’re rich. Tt’s a movie that exists in a gray area … it’s a morally ambiguous movie where this white family is tying up a black guy and trying to save their own skin. Yeah, at the end they all realize what they’re all doing, but it’s never a movie where you’re feeling real sympathy toward these people. So, the Cinemascore got hit two ways: They left the theater kind of feeling like, “Well, we just watched a movie that’s very gray and dark and we didn’t get what we wanted.” So they went, “Fuck it, ‘C.'”
And, again, the concept of The Purge is interesting on a lot of levels.
That’s exactly it. And we were trying to work on all of those levels — and hopefully entertain people more than we did the first one.
Do you regret killing off Ethan Hawke’s character in the first film?
No. I think we knew his character had to die. We spoke about it, but for storytelling he had to die for his sins of making money off of The Purge.
This second ‘The Purge’ movie sets up a third. What do you want to accomplish with further ‘Purge’ movies in terms of what you’re trying to say?
I think the revolution and the government conspiracy angle, to me those are the seeds I planted that I want to take forward. And I love Frank Grillo’s character, so I’m already getting pressure to get him involved and I love working with him.
Will these movies always take place on the actual day of The Purge?
I was thinking about that. In the next one, I’d like to show just a normal day.
Like a couple of weeks before?
Exactly. Not just two hours before. Let’s see people when they’re not prepping for The Purge — like, to see reality in this world. Maybe it is different? Maybe people act different in a society where you know Purging is impending.
The purge is in March, so in May, not many people are thinking about The Purge.
No. But, maybe the seeds are there? Like, “I better be polite to that guy at the grocery store.”
In a, “I don’t want that guy holding a grudge for 10 months, I’d better be nice,” way.
Exactly. I always say, it would create a very polite society. For the whole year, I’m probably not going to piss anyone off. I don’t know who’s going to come back and want to fuck me over on Purge night.
Someone who was a dick in high school is now all of a sudden really nice.
“I straightened out, man. The Purge!”
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.