Writer/Director James DeMonaco’s Blumhouse and Platinum Dunes-produced The Purge stars Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Tony Oller and Rhys Wakefield and hits theaters tomorrow, June 7th.
“In an America wracked by crime, the government has sanctioned an annual 12-hour period in which any and all criminal activity—including murder—is legal. The police can’t be called. Hospitals suspend help. It is one night when the citizenry regulates itself without thought of punishment. On this night plagued by violence and an epidemic of crime, one family wrestles with the decision of who they will become when a stranger comes knocking.”
I recently hopped on the phone with producer Jason Blum (Sinister, Insidious, Insidious Chapter 2, Paranormal Activity 1-5, The Lords Of Salem, Dark Skies, The Bay) to chat about the political reaction to the film and the balancing act of dealing with a big idea in a small setting. We also talk about the creative reasons behind keeping budgets down and whether or not Sinister 2 will continue the Insidious Chapter 2 trend of feeling a little bigger. Finally, we get a few words about his partnering with Ryan Murphy (“American Horror Story”) for the meta-remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown.
The conceit of The Purge is very class based, it preys on people who can’t afford to protect themselves. Did you consider that there might be backlash from the right for this sort of extrapolation?
Yeah we thought about it a lot actually through development. When we finished the movie we showed it to several very right leaning groups and you’ll be as surprised as I was to hear this – and this is from a few very smart conservative people who I really like and trust – they really liked the movie and politically they thought The Purge was a disastrous concept that showed what would happen if the government got too involved in our lives. They thought that since The Purge comes from the government that the government should be smaller and less involved that it was a disastrous idea of what would happen if we let the government get bigger and bigger. I heard that a couple of times.
That’s interesting, I wouldn’t have expected that to be the response.
It never occurred to me until I heard it from them. It was very interesting.
It’s a home invasion film, how hard was it to balance the sandbox of ideas that its concept provided with this more intimate story?
That’s our brand, these high concept movies that can be told inexpensively so we can maintain creative control that we give to the directors and the people who are working for free. That’s the deal we make, we don’t really pay them [upfront] but they get to do what they want to do. I think it’s compelling that there’s this big thing happening all over the country but we see it through this one family’s perspective, we’re not cutting all around. It’s how that family experiences The Purge.
With the freedom you give the filmmakers, are you ever worried they’ll come back with something too incendiary?
I’m focussed on making really great, fun, scary movies. If there are side effects along with that, whether it be a political message or an unusual piece of casting or when James Wan says the 3rd act of Insidious should be like a David Lynch movie – that’s the joy of micro budget movies. We get to try new stuff.
I always want to work in the box of scary, great and commercial – but I encourage directors to try new weird stuff once we find that box. That doesn’t scare me, that’s part of the joy of micro budget movies, you get to try new things.
I went to the trailer event for Insidious Chapter 2, and it went over well. People were jumping out of their seats. But the movie felt a little bigger, and I know you guys spent a little bit more on it. With something like Sinister 2, should we also expect a bigger scope?
Yes, but not compared to other sequels. We still make the sequels to Insidious and the Paranormal sequels and Sinister 2 for way, way less than a studio would if the original had grossed $100M world wide. I still like to try new and different stuff in sequels but, like you pointed out, you definitely have more financial wiggle room. And Insidious Chapter 2 has somewhat of a larger scope, but relative to any studio horror sequel it’s much less expensive.
A few years ago we were getting a lot of slasher remakes and sequels that were having a hard time generating a profit because they cost something like $30 Million, would you say that’s an irresponsible amount to spend on a genre film?
I wouldn’t use the word “irresponsible,” I would just never do it. Whether it’s responsible or not, I just wouldn’t do it just because of all the other things it leads to. When you’re spending that kind of money it puts a enormous amount of pressure on the movie for whoever needs to make that money back. For me, it infects the creative process. As the guy leading the ship on these I’m conscious of keeping the budget down, but it’s for creative reasons – so we can play. When the budget gets that high… if I gave $30 Million to somebody I’d be all over every decision they made. You’re out on a limb and I just think it’s a much more fun process when you’re on a solid floor. You can be so much more playful.
The idea behind the remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown is fascinating to me. Is there anything you can share regarding that?
I’m on the set now and it’s going great. We have two and a half weeks of production left and it’s great collaborating with Ryan Murphy, that’s the real treat of this. He and I are the only two guys who feel as strongly about musicals as we do about horror movies so it’s fun that we found each other.
His aesthetic is interesting. When you’re watching “American Horror Story”, that first season shouldn’t work but it does work. Is that attitude making its way into Town at all?
It is. That’s what he brings to the table here. It’s a very, very different take on a scary movie. It’s extremely low budget and that’s how we were able to realize it, by keeping the budget down. And we’ll see if it works out or not, but it’s certainly original.