The lines are truly blurring between film and television. Once upon a time, a TV show based on a popular film franchise usually signaled the end of the road—an arbitrary reboot of a faded brand. But in a media landscape where horror on the big screen, and all genre on the small screen, are cited as enjoying a golden age, executive producer Jason Blum and the filmmakers behind the ever popular Purge horror movies are taking a chance: They’re expanding the saga of the four existing Purge movies into USA network’s canonical The Purge TV series, due out next month. At a time when everyone is trying to build a shared universe, Writer-director James DeMonaco’s The Purge, which has frequently re-contextualized itself with new characters and scenarios in nearly every film, has already laid the groundwork for the bloodiest one yet.
“I thought one of the frustrating things about doing Purge movies is movies are very plot-driven,” says Blum when we catch up with him at San Diego Comic-Con. “You have to keep action and set-pieces up in movies. And one of the things I loved about The Purge, or imagining about The Purge, was how it changes people’s behavior, whether it’s before Purge Night, or before or after Purge night, and a TV series gives you the time to really explore how people’s behaviors change when there’s this horrible night that occurs once a year.”
Indeed, it was a concept that very much appealed to DeMonaco, who has written every Purge movie to date (he also directed the first three), and who returned to the television series as writer and executive producer. In fact, while Blum first broached the idea of a television series based on The Purge to DeMonaco, the writer always had a kernel of an idea for a serialized version of the premise in his back pocket. Just in case.
“TV just allowed us more film to explore character and why anyone would pick up a gun,” DeMonaco considers while remembering the earliest conversations about the TV show, which at two years ago predates even production on this summer’s The First Purge prequel film. “What we actually do is we start, like the movies, on the day [of the Purge], but unlike the movies, we employ this new structure where we use flashbacks to show non-purging life. So we go back 10 years, we go back three months, we go back two days. So we start seeing how people exist in the non-Purge days in this new society.”
The idea of flashing back to the rest of the year when characters are not purging is an intriguing one, especially given that we never see the aftermath of what Purge means to those who participate, as well as those who do not. With each Purge movie ending within minutes of the national holiday’s close at dawn, there is room to broaden the scope of how characters are forced to cope with the trauma of living in a society that not only sanctions murder and mayhem one night a year, but revels in it.
“it’s centered around one Purge Night,” Blum tells us while noting the structural similarities to a Purge movie, “but what I hope is if we’re lucky enough to get a second season that it would really go and focus a lot on the other 364 days a year.”
Indeed, during a separate interview, showrunner and executive producer Thomas Kelly marveled at the possibilities of building out from the general format associated with The Purge movies.
“When people mention the second season, I want to bang my head into the wall,” Kelly first laughs. Yet he then adds, “The beauty though is it’s such a pure premise. Think about it, there are endless capabilities. We literally talked about doing the next season where it’s the day after the Purge. I mean what happens after you’ve shot your neighbor in the face and you have to deal with his family? What’s it like in a hospital on Purge Night, what’s it like inside a bank heist?”
At the moment though, USA’s The Purge is allowing the franchise and DeMonaco to broaden the previously familiar themes of the films, which have not been shy about their political allusions. After all, even the poster for this year’s The First Purge saw its title printed in the “Make America Great Again” white lettering on a standard red baseball cap.
Says DeMonaco, “One thing that is very topical is we have a black woman in a Wall Street-like environment who’s been dealing with racism, sexism for years, and her storyline is based on how she begins to look at the Purge as maybe a way to eliminate people or a person who may have stopped her advancement in that community because of her race and sex, and it is her moral dilemma: Should I use the Purge to help my career and get back at the people who have stopped me? So we sort of explore the Me Too movement, sexuality, harassment in the work place.”
Amanda Warren, who plays that very vexed character, describes her Jane as “kindness incarnate” and as possessing one of the strongest moral compasses she’s ever come across in a script. Thus the irony that she is morally tested by the Purge.
“We’ve been gifted with 10 very beautiful hours that mediate on the human condition,” Warren tells me. “I think what’s interesting about the timing of this television series coming out this fall is that it’s kind of hard to avoid any social topic that’s front and center on the global stage, so that was kind of an inevitability. But we don’t force feed our viewers, we’re playing the humanity of the situation in any scene.”
Those situations might also be a little more character-driven in their cultivation of dread than viewers are used to after the gory film franchise. Executive Brad Fuller certainly hopes so, suggesting the new medium provides a different route into the Purge universe for those who might not revel in the gore that appears in each of the films.
“With an R-rated film, we use a lot of blood,” Fuller muses. “A lot. In the television show, we have to be a little bit more judicious. I don’t think USA has limited us but I also feel like with this television show reaching a lot of people who might not know what they’re getting into, then splitting a body in half might not necessarily be a great thing. So it forces the directors to come up with less grizzly ways of killing people.”
Nevertheless, the combination of the two mediums is perhaps the most remarkable thing. Rather than the differences of film and television being seen as a barrier or wall, the distance is now increasingly being viewed as a door for creators to walk through and explore.
“It used to be when I grew up, there was such a divide between movies and TV,” DeMoncao says. “And I think the great shows over the last 10 years have kind of [changed that]. I think actors have done it for us. I think actors have realized TV can be as good as features, and once they made that transition, when you see people like Nicole Kidman doing film and TV, then everyone’s like, ‘Oh, okay, both sides of this coin can be fantastic.’”
In the same vein, it is paving the way for horror to reinvent itself, something Blum very much has on his mind. Over the last decade and change, the producer has helped contribute to what many consider the genre’s renaissance, producing projects like Insidious and Sinister, as well as the Oscar winning Get Out. He states that the acting talent that works on TV today would never have done so 10 years ago, including the likes of Amy Adams on his own new HBO limited series, Sharp Objects. But that creates new opportunities for horror too.
“I think horror has to play a little differently on TV. Horror in movies, there’s a lot of focus on getting a jump scare, and I don’t think you can achieve the same kind of jump in television, but I think that genre—I mean, The Walking Dead—I think the genre has already moved to TV, and I think it is only going to continue to get bigger and bigger in television.”
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And while becoming a little cagier, Blum admits he’s even open at seeing other Blumhouse Productions properties spin off to TV, saying he’s considered Ouija making the jump, as well as one very tantalizing prospect for fans of Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson’s characters in the Insidious movies.
“I feel like Insidious, there’s a TV show in Specs and Tucker, we’ve talked about that,” Blum says.
But first we must see what happen when the New Founding Father’s not-so-glorious Purge Night hits the small screen… and what comes the morning after the party is over. The festivities begin when the show premieres on USA network on Tuesday, Sept. 4.