Is 'The Purge' forever? How America's 'seeds of discontent' feed the dystopian franchise

Brian Truitt

With the new movie “The Forever Purge,” James DeMonaco was ready to end his all-too-real dystopian franchise. But then the world happened – or, more accurately, kept happening.

“Dude, it was going to be the last one, I'll be completely honest,” says DeMonaco, who has written all five films, including “The Forever Purge” (in theaters Friday), and directed the first three, including the original 2013 movie. “And then about three, four months ago, I woke up and I had this idea. I'm like, ‘Oh, no.’ ”

Since the beginning, the “Purge” films, where the main conceit is America has one night a year when all crime, including murder, is legal for hours, have always married action, horror, sci-fi and satire with a sociopolitical bent. They not only touch on hot-button real-world issues (the marketing for 2018’s “The First Purge” trolled then-President Donald Trump) but also have been eerily prescient about an increasingly divided, tumultuous America.

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After the annual Purge night ends, a group of masked outlaws in Texas refuse to give up the fight in director Everardo Gout's "The Forever Purge."

DeMonaco’s producing partners, Jason Blum and Sébastien K. Lemercier, have often told him: “Stop predicting the future. Because it's an ugly future you keep predicting,” DeMonaco says. “I wish it wasn't so topical."

The filmmaker discusses some of the franchise’s biggest real-world swings and a possible sixth “Purge.”

Ana de la Reguera is a Mexican woman living in Texas being hunted by killers in "The Forever Purge."

‘The Forever Purge’ features villains who embrace white supremacy

Directed by Everardo Gout, the latest installment touches on themes of immigration, the border wall and racial and income inequality. A Mexican couple (Ana de la Reguera and Tenoch Huerta) in Texas live through their first Purge night only to then find that extremist hate groups have decided to extend that bloodshed, even after it’s supposed to be over, as they try to “purify” the nation.

Growing up in New York, “I was very always aware of race and tribalism,” DeMonaco says. His franchise is “the perfect avenue to reflect upon this. In the (Trump) regime, we saw the stuff that happened down in Charlottesville, and it's inevitable that inside a ‘Purge’ movie, this stuff is going to come to a head, and I give Universal credit for allowing us to go there.”

Elizabeth Mitchell is a senator running for president on the platform of ridding the USA of its annual night of chaos in 'The Purge: Election Year.'

The new film also reflects a disturbing modern mindset

“The Forever Purge” finished filming before the COVID-19 outbreak, though DeMonaco sees the Forever Purgers’ feeling they have the right to kill, even if that impinges on others’ rights and lives, mirroring a certain mentality in the United States when it comes to civil liberties, from the refusal of masks and vaccines to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. “I hear so many people saying: ‘Oh, I don't want to do this. That's my right not to do it.’ But what does it really mean?” DeMonaco says. "I was smelling something in the air that hadn't yet bloomed, but it was out there.”

As for the insurrection, DeMonaco actually foreshadowed that at the end of 2016's "The Purge: Election Year”: Supporters of the right-wing party New Founding Fathers of America stage violent uprisings and protest the results electing a new president who ran on a platform of outlawing Purge night. “That all happened beforehand, man,” DeMonaco says. “It's truly strange.”

Masked psychos attack a family holed up in their house in 2013's original "The Purge."

The original ‘Purge’ was inspired by underlying ‘seeds of discontent’

DeMonaco’s first “Purge” film, starring Ethan Hawke as a family man whose house is targeted by masked psychos, came out during the Obama administration and was the filmmaker’s commentary on gun laws and culture. Still, even then, DeMonaco put on screen an anger he felt bubbling up in society.

“I hate to say I knew – that's going to sound oddly pretentious,” DeMonaco says. “I still live in a very blue-collar world with people with very real blue-collar problems. I told Jason Blum that Donald would win. He didn't believe me. He's like, ‘You're out of your mind.’ I'm like: ‘You don't know what I'm hearing on a daily basis. People are not happy. People feel like they're being misunderstood and overlooked.’ I've always just seen those seeds of discontent and discord.”

Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and her brother Isiah (Joivan Wade) are Staten Island residents trying to survive a night of terror in "The First Purge."

‘The First Purge’ featured people of color fighting for what’s right

Two years before the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests of last summer, “The First Purge” examined how the Purge started as a behavioral experiment to help bring down the crime rate under 1%. Residents in a marginalized community on Staten Island are paid to remain there for this first night of terror, but they rise up against violent governmental goons.

For DeMonaco, that came out of him wanting some sort of positivity in these films: For example, the end of every “Purge” involves saving a life rather than taking one. “This is the most nihilistic concept almost imaginable,” he says. “So we always say, 'OK, well, let's get to a place of harmony or hope without sounding completely corny.' ”

There’s plenty of grist for a possible sixth ‘Purge’

DeMonaco’s next project is the very non-dystopian coming-of-age drama “This Is the Night,” and another “Purge” could be coming “if the movie gods say so.” The filmmaker says he’s “always wanted to do” a men-on-a-mission film a la “The Great Escape” and “The Guns of Navarone,” and he envisions putting that aspect with “this weird, sociopolitical flip of the country that changes the landscape of the whole thing.”

Of course, current American discourse would play a role, and although he feels “really good” about the nation some days, the fact that “we're not all listening to a singular source of news” worries him the most, DeMonaco says. “We’re not coming together anywhere. This is scary as all hell, and that's when I get very frightened about the future and where we're going right now.”