‘Purge’ director straddles two worlds
“Our relationship stemmed from our genuine love for cinema,” said “The Purge” director James DeMonaco of his friendship with lead actor Ethan Hawke.
DeMonaco and Hawke first worked together in the 2005 remake of the sci-fi flick “Assault on Precinct 13” with DeMonaco as the writer. In 2009, Hawke played lead in DeMonaco’s directorial debut, “Staten Island.”
“Ethan and I have been business associates and friends for a long time now. We began being friendly to each other during our first film. It’s easy because we have similar sensibilities in films,” DeMonaco told the Inquirer in a phone interview on Thursday.
Describing Hawke as an intellectual, he added: “I know we share the same love for genre films.”
The sci-fi/thriller “The Purge,” with only a production budget of $3 million, topped the box office in the United States with $16.8 million on its opening day in June 6 and $34.1 million through the entire weekend, according to the website boxofficemojo.com.
The movie, set in 2022, follows one family over the course of a single night, during the annual 12-hour purge in which any and all criminal activities—including murder—become legal. On the night of the annual lock down, an intruder breaks into the gated community where the family of James Sandin (Hawke) lives. This begins a sequence of events that threatens to tear the family apart. Now it’s up to James, his wife Mary (Lena Headey) and their kids Charlie (Max Burkholder) and Zoey (Adelaide Kane) to make it through the night without turning into the monsters from whom they hide.
DeMonaco claimed to have gotten along well with Hawke while making the film. “We share the same vision for the film. We don’t fight on the set. We easily understand what the other wants to say. I guess this is because we both love movies that make people think and we both have a subversive political outlook.”
What is the inspiration for the story?
It came from watching the news while I was living in France. I noticed the difference in the depiction of violence in news programs there from what I normally see in the United States. As a result, I wrote a story of what America would be like in the future with its inclination for violence.
Would you participate in a purge yourself?
I’d go to Canada.
What did you see in the young actors early on that made you want to work with them?
We went through a very simple process. We started with Ethan or Lena reading with the young actors. I first saw Max on a TV show and loved him there. He has expressive eyes. Adelaide read amazingly. They did a great job. Luckily, they look so much like Lena, especially Max.
For a film with an antiviolence message, this is rather violent. What’s the reason behind this?
There is a fine line between entertainment value and trying to send an antiviolence message across. However, we believe that the equation holds as long as the outcome (of the story) appears tragic, as long as viewers realize the repercussions of what the characters do—that violence is never cool and is not something to be cheered on. We also want to encourage more people to see this film so entertainment value comes to play.
Was the film’s box-office success a big surprise to you?
It was a huge surprise. A mild success would have been great. We shot this for only 19 days. The movie is cheap by American standards. I guess there’s something in the idea that attracted the American audience and made it a huge success.
What were the difficulties you had to hurdle while working on the film?
We had to work on a very limited budget. It’s tricky to have to shoot it for only 19 days. There were a lot of technical difficulties that I don’t think people will be interested in … As the director, the difficulty was in maintaining a certain tone. You see, I regard the concept of the purge as absurd—I hope it doesn’t happen in any society. We were conscious not to push it too far. If we come across as too satirical the audience would not feel scared or terrified, which admittedly was the goal of the film.
What are your favorite sci-fi/thriller films?
There are a couple of great ones like “Assault on Precinct 13,” which is mostly sci-fi, as well as “Escape from New York.” I’m a huge fan of John Carpenter. His works are a big inspiration for this project.
As a successful indie filmmaker, do you still aspire to make mainstream films?
It’s really hard to say … What I write dictates the direction I go to. I only hope to be able to come up with a good film that will affect people’s sensibilities. I also hope to go back and forth doing indie and mainstream in Hollywood. I just want to continue what I do.
What’s your advice to budding filmmakers?
I’d tell them to keep writing no matter what. To create a lifestyle that will allow them to write for at least five hours a day. I did some bartending a few years back, but still made sure to have time to write. I’d also tell them to write stories that people will be attracted to and that will give them the opportunity to direct.
“The Purge” is released and distributed locally by Universal Pictures and United International Pictures through Solar Entertainment Corp. It will be seen in theaters nationwide starting July 31.