The First Purge: Why James DeMonaco Isn’t Directing

We spoke with Purge producers Andrew Form and Bryan Fuller about why James DeMonaco chose to only write The First Purge.

In the third Purge movie, aka The Purge: Election Year, for a brief moment it seemed like there was actually hope for the future in this nihilistic vision of tomorrow. As written and directed by James DeMonaco, all three Purge films depict an America in which crime rates have plunged… but because murder and all other terrors are legal one night out of the year. Still, the third film ends with an election that suggests tomorrow will be better than today. Yet given how the actual election year went after its summer 2016 release, the grim cynicism in July’s The First Purge doesn’t just feel timely, it feels inevitable.

To date, we have only had a poster for The First Purge, printed on a familiar, garish red hat that is just missing the words “Make” and “Great Again.” In a world that feels closer than ever to The First Purge, a prequel with just such a title is plenty apt. So of course we brought it up with producers Andrew Form and Bryan Fuller during a recent interview. Intriguingly, the both promised that the first trailer is imminent, as well as revealed why DeMonaco, the mastermind behind all three films, is departing from the director’s chair.

While DeMonaco still wrote the screenplay for The First Purge, he has handed off directorial duties to Gerard McMurray (Burning Sands). And for Form and Fuller, DeMonaco’s departure from the movie set was only logical, considering DeMonaco’s horror-defining satire of violence still takes a toll on someone who dreads gun violence.

Says Form, “James DeMonaco is a genius and he has put his finger on the political pulse of our country for a couple years now, and in The First Purge, he continues to do it.” Still the producer adds, “I think The Purge became, for James, a hard thing to keep going back, and to keep living in it. It’s a super violent world, and James is a super sweet guy with a family. He did three of those, [which are] the equivalent of us killing kids in a basement. He did that on those first three movies, so he was nice enough to write the fourth but he wanted to hand the reins off.”

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This is in keeping with my impression of DeMonaco when we interviewed him in 2014 for The Purge: Anarchy, during which he refuted the idea that these horror films about murder and mayhem running rampant are a glorification of a culture’s obsession with guns.

“It’s very hard when you’re trying to make a commentary on violence, you’re portraying violence,” DeMonaco previously told us. “So the question is where is that line, going all the way back to A Clockwork Orange and American Psycho. You’re making a commentary on violence [and] that means you’re portraying violence. I guess the other thing to say is if I wanted to make a true movie on gun violence in America, and America’s obsession with guns, which I do think there is an obsession with guns in America… It’s become a sexual fetish in a way.” He went on to add, “When I see [gun violence], I’m terrified.”

And in 2018, Fuller and Form confirm that the dread that comes with Americans getting to shoot whatever they want will continue in The First Purge.

“When we read that script for it, and then when you make it, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, James,’” Fuller says.

The First Purge begins on July 4, and its sure to be button-pushing trailer will be firing up much sooner.