James DeMonaco didn’t expect The Purge to become what it has. The writer and director originally imagined the first movie as a small indie, but with backing from Blumhouse and Universal, we all know how it evolved: four sequels and a TV spin-off. It’s a series DeMonaco thought was coming to an end with The Forever Purge…but even that may change, if producer Jason Blum has his way.

If the fifth film is the end, though, it does have a conclusion both for the story at hand and the franchise at large. DeMonaco didn’t return to direct the grand (possible) finale, but he did act as a producer and write the script. During a recent Zoom call, the Purge creator told us about the rules of the franchise, the biggest question he asks himself and his collaborators, and whether we’ll see franchise favorite Frank Grillo return if the series ever gets resurrected.

Jason Blum just told me he’s trying to convince you to keep this series going. 

Exactly, exactly. He’s very convincing, Jason.

If you saw this as the ending, what made you decide to let the series end on a note of hope?

I think I always try to end all the movies that way. This one has quite a dark place we go to towards the end. But I think in all the Purge movies, we always end on either saving a life or some bit of hope. Like in Purge 1, they don’t kill the intruder, the Edwin Hodge character. So they’re saving a life, not taking life. Because the conceit is so nihilistic that I always felt we had to get a place of harmony or hope, otherwise you don’t want to leave what people want it to slit their wrists from the audience.

This is a summer thrill ride, right? So we want to give some hope. It’s what I would want as an audience member. So we’ve always tried to do that. In Purge 2, Frank Grillo doesn’t kill the guy who killed his son, and then he gets saved. The two girls kind of lift him up.

My favorite of the bunch.

Me too. So there’s that hope that Grillo’s found a new family, maybe there’s hope for the future. And in 3, they don’t kill the minister. Even though he’s a terrible man, they choose not to kill him. It’s always about this kind of choice, not to kill. 4, it’s about Elan’s character saving his ex-girlfriend and her family. Long story short: we wanted to get to that place of hope. Even at the end of this one, I hope people find hope. Even in Josh Lucas‘ character, I hope people see his evolution into a different place from where he came in the beginning.

As for Jason, Jason probably did get into my head, because about three months ago, I did come up with what I think could be part six. We will see. We’ll see.

As you said, these movies are designed as summer thrill rides, but they also go to very dark, very real places. How have you tried to strike that balance throughout the series? 

It’s probably the biggest question that we deal with through the process. Luckily, I have the most amazing two producers. I got Sebastian, who’s like my daily producer every day. He gets the script first and he keeps me in check on all the projects I write. We’ve got a production company together, so Sebastian is always checking in. And Jason comes in after we do the script. He checks me again and then Peter Kramer at the studio, so there’s a constant check and balance. I tend to push things very far. That’s how I just write, I just go all in, and then I’ll take it back, become more subtle, but it is that balance.

I think that’s what I love about the partnership we’ve had with Universal. As long as we provide what they’ve always been created for, this crazy, horror, thriller action, dystopian, thrill ride, they kind of give us some leeway to smuggle these socio-political thoughts within the piece. I think if we exist first and foremost in this crazy, crazy fun, horror way, we’re allowed to then smuggle in these ideas, but it is a balancing act.

The audience is a great gauge too. The audience, I don’t think wants to be preached to. They don’t want to proselytize it. They don’t want me bashing them ahead with some of my thoughts. So when we get too preachy, if we do get preachy, our early preview audiences are wonderful to say, “Cut the shit. We don’t need to be preached to.”

So we have to be a little subtle about it. I think we struck the balance for the most part. We failed at points too.

What rules do you have for this franchise? Like, if someone suggests an idea, what would make you say, “Well, that’s not The Purge“?

Oh, God dude, especially when we did the TV version two. We had two seasons of a TV show, and that was the first time I was working with other writers. Without going too far off, the idea can become easily exploitative very quickly. It’s a very dark idea. And so, there’s a line that I try to hold a balance of like, okay, wait, we’re pushing it too far. Now we’re going way too far into something so dark because it can. I mean, it’s a night of legal murder, so we can go to very dark places. I have to reel myself back, and I had to reel the writers’ room back. They would reel me back, too.

I’ll say this, my first draft of The Purge that I gave Sebastian in probably 2007, he literally was like, “This is un-filmable. We can’t make this movie. This is insane. This is Clockwork Orange times 10 meets Natural Born Killers times 20.”

There was a lot of doubt about the first one, right? 

Oh yeah. I went to a place where murder was so normalized that I wanted to show how a society can normalize something so grotesque. So we had characters that we’ve come to love, doing very dark things, but in the most normal way. And it just went too far. We realize, okay, we’ve gone way past where this was.

But here’s the weird thing, dude. I created The Purge, then was the producer on it. We thought we would raise a million dollars and shoot it as an independent film, and it would play at the Angelika in New York, the Laemmle in LA, and that’s it, like the Michael Haneke film, like Funny Games, something like that.

We never saw the potential for anything larger than a cult thriller or something like that. Jason’s the one who saw the conceit, and Universal saw that the conceit can be somewhat, well, it could be universal, could be commercial. We just saw it so dark and so dystopian and nihilistic that we didn’t see the potential.

How did the last couple of years in particular change your perception of the franchise? 

That’s what’s scary. Exactly. This scares the shit out of me, and I wish this wasn’t true, where people ask me, “Can The Purge really happen?” And like I said, this was conceived as a dark horror film, nothing more than that. Yes, it had some sociopolitical underpinnings. The way it became so prescient over the last six years, I’d say, we never saw that coming. Sebastian says I’m like Nostradamus. He goes, “You predicted the future.” I go, “I’m not happy about that.” It doesn’t make me happy that these things are happening in society. It’s weird, man.

I got to ask, what’s on your chalkboard in the background? 

Oh, shit, dude. Oh, that’s a TV show idea, a mini-series idea I had about a year ago that I haven’t erased. During COVID, I had something I was jotting ideas down. My daughter wrote, “I love you, dad.” So I never erased it, because I felt bad about getting rid of that.

Is that where even some of these Purge stories start, on that chalkboard? 

Yeah, yeah. They all start right here, in this little spot. All my DVDs are around me. I just put movies on, and this is below my garage. I got like a little man thing here.

Do you work with [producer] Michael Bay much on these movies? 

No.

No?

I shook his hand. I shook Michael’s hand. That’s my relationship, dude. Nothing good or bad to say. He could be the greatest guy or the worst human being. I don’t know him. Literally, I remember being in his office on Purge 1, and he was standing there. He was off directing, and I just walked over, I said, “Michael, I’m DeMonaco. I’m going to direct Purge.” He’s like, “Hey, brother.” That was it. So, Michael, yeah, nothing for Michael.

What do you think Frank Grillo’s character [from the second and third films] is up to these days?

Dude, my Purge 6 idea is all about Frank. It’s all about the Leo character. Without giving anything away, I think he’s off on his own, but he’s going to be called back into action, hopefully on Purge 6, if we’re lucky enough to do it. I hope that Leo comes back. That’s the goal. When I came up with Purge 6, he was the center of the idea. I’m hoping that we get to do that with him.

Cool Posts From Around the Web: