- Notes provided by Universal Pictures -
In an America wracked by escalating crime and overcrowded prisons, the government has sanctioned an annual 12-hour period in which any and all criminal activity-including murder-becomes legal. The police can't be called. Hospitals suspend help. It's 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.
In The Purge, a speculative thriller that follows one family over the course of a single night, four people will be tested to see how far they will go to protect themselves when the vicious outside world breaks into their home.
When James (Training Day's and Sinister's ETHAN HAWKE) and Mary Sandin (Game of Thrones' LENA HEADEY) discover that an intruder (Cougar Town's EDWIN HODGE) has broken into their gated community during the yearly lockdown, thus begins a sequence of events that threatens to tear their family apart.
Now, it is up to James, Mary and their children-14-year-old Charlie (Parenthood's MAX BURKHOLDER) and 16-year-old Zoey (Teen Wolf's ADELAIDE KANE)-to make it through the night without turning into the monsters from whom they hide.
The Purge is helmed by writer/director JAMES DEMONACO (writer of The Negotiator and Assault on Precinct 13 and director of Staten Island, New York), who has assembled an accomplished behind-the-scenes team that includes director of photography JACQUES JOUFFRET (Pain & Gain, upcoming Lone Survivor), production designer MELANIE PAIZIS-JONES (Breaking Dawn, A Girl in Her Imagination), editor PETER GVOZDAS (Pain & Gain, The Avengers), costume designer LISA NORCIA (Night of
the Living Dead 3D, Murder on the 13th Floor) and composer NATHAN WHITEHEAD (upcoming Friended to Death, D4).
Collaborating with DeMonaco as producers on the thriller are Blumhouse Productions' Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister), alongside SÉBASTIEN K. LEMERCIER (Assault on Precinct 13, Four Lovers) and Platinum Dunes partners MICHAEL BAY (Pain & Gain, Transformers franchise), BRAD FULLER (The Amityville Horror, A Nightmare on Elm Street) and ANDREW FORM (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th).
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Birth of a New America:
Imagining The Purge
A veteran of penning gritty screenplays such as The Negotiator and Assault on Precinct 13, James DeMonaco was inspired to draft The Purge after a couple of unexpected events put his creative process in motion. Most significantly, the idea for the story was sown when he and his wife were almost killed by a reckless driver. DeMonaco recalls: ``In a fit of terrible road rage, I had gotten out of the car to argue with this guy, and my wife pulled me back. When we got back in, she turned to me and said, 'Wouldn't it be great if we all had one free one a year?' I thought that was such a dark thing to say, especially for a doctor. But it stayed with me for a very long time.
A few years passed, and DeMonaco was living in Toronto working on a film. One night, while absentmindedly watching television, it dawned on him that the local news was broadcasting stories that were quite less violent in nature than the ones he was used to seeing in the United States. He suddenly found it eye-opening that his home country's media covered so many more stories about violence and was curious to explore if America is unique on the world's stage...or if we simply focus and obsess more upon these types of stories? The thoughts fused together, and the tale of a terrifying extension of what our society could become was born.
As evidenced by his earlier screenplays, DeMonaco had deep interest in exploring the cause-and-effect relationship that our society has with aggression. Like many of us, he was intrigued as a young reader by allegorical stories such as Shirley Jackson's ``The Lottery and Richard Connell's ``The Most Dangerous Game. Reflects the director: ``I wanted to get people talking about the violence in America. Our film has themes of class. In a way, the thought process comes from Hurricane Katrina and the government's response, or lack of response, and how we treat the poor.
The director and his producing partner, Sébastien Lemercier, spent approximately three years developing the script. During this time, they explored the journey each character would take and how the night of The Purge would affect the four members of the Sandin family. Their goal was to shape the tone of the story so it would feel more like a morality play set in the near future than a science-fiction fantasy. Provides DeMonaco: ``Sébastien was such a crucial part of keeping my vision alive. He helped me get the script in the perfect condition to bring to Blumhouse and Platinum Dunes.
DeMonaco wrote of a New America where, after years of social unrest, the unemployment rate is now at one percent and the poverty rate consistently stays below five percent. The government as we know it no longer exists, but a new regime, the New Founders of America (NFA), has solved the vexing issue of dealing with the violent and disenfranchised by sanctioning one night per year when we may free our id and commit any crime imaginable, free of punishment. The NFA has pushed through and ensured the ratification of the 28th Amendment to codify every American's right to the annual Purge.
Annually, from March 21 at 7:00 p.m. until March 22 at 7:00 a.m., mayhem rules and we are cleansed.
For the five people we meet on March 21, 2022, nothing will ever be the same. DeMonaco introduces us to security system salesman James Sandin, who has arrived home from work just in time for his family's annual ritual of locking themselves in tight. Immediately after dinner, The Purge commencement is announced. James activates his top-of-the-line security system, and the Sandins settle in for a quiet evening free of mayhem...or so they foolishly believe.
A few minutes into lockdown, young Charlie, checking out the security camera feed in the control room, sees a stranger running down the street and screaming for help.
Charlie panics. How can he leave this man out there to die? But if he helps the man, what would that mean for his family's safety? Ultimately, the boy disarms the security system and lets the stranger into his home. That's when all hell breaks loose. The stranger turns out to be a homeless man who has been chased down by a group of masked Freaks, shepherded by their polite leader (Sanctum's RHYS WAKEFIELD).
When the murderous gang refuses to leave unless the stranger is returned to them, James and Mary are left with the unsavory choice of whether to do what they know is morally right and protect him, or sacrifice him to the within-their-rights felons wielding machetes and machine guns outside their door. As they struggle with this moral dilemma, we see ourselves and ask what we would do in the same situation.
The writer/director envisioned filming the thriller on a very modest budget, one that guaranteed creative freedom, and he wanted to direct it when the time came to shoot. Alongside Lemercier, in 2009, DeMonaco brought the story to Jason Blum. As producer of the enormously successful Paranormal Activity series and other breakout ``micro-budget films, such as Insidious and Sinister, Blum had been building his own production shop-one that would allow filmmakers a chance to tell their stories. The producer recalls the conversation: ``We got together, and James said he had written this script about how a corporation that is now running America is utilizing The Purge for criminals to get rid of each other, poor people to get rid of each other and the upper-class to get rid of the disenfranchised. I thought it was very provocative.
Blum has been quite thoughtful with his cost-effective business model, typically opting to work only with experienced directors and keep filming on a very tight schedule. In fact, the partnership among Blum, DeMonaco and producer Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes company made perfect sense for The Purge. Blum explains: ``One of the many benefits of having Platinum Dunes involved in the making of The Purge was that we didn't break our model. James was a second-time director, so we added a very experienced filmmaker [Bay] and production company [Platinum Dunes] into the mix to make sure we got the most out of the resources that we had.
Shooting a movie on a more abbreviated schedule may scare some filmmakers, but DeMonaco was quite pleased with the process and outcome. He shares: ``This movie
really fit into the producers' specific budget and timetable, and that pushed us to be more creative and efficient with our time. We all knew each other and became a great team.
For their parts, producers Michael Bay, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller have created innovative, yet responsibly budgeted, films under the Platinum Dunes banner that speak to a wide audience. From the very successful re-imaginings of The Amityville Horror, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street to their last hit with Universal Pictures (under the Rogue banner), The Unborn, the trio has captured audiences' attention and changed the way we look at both suspense- and supernatural-thrillers.
More recently, the men have worked with the company to shift its focus toward a different model-one that Blum has also championed. Fuller notes: ``Jason has created a great model of making low-budget movies and has figured out a way to do them in a way that no one else has. When we brought The Purge to Universal, what sold them is that we could make a great movie for a small amount, and our track records helped push through that it was a worthwhile investment.
Kill or Be Killed:
Casting the Thriller
Ethan Hawke has a history with James DeMonaco that goes back to the director's first project. Offers DeMonaco: ``Based on Ethan's work on our last film together, there was no question that we wanted him to be our James Sandin. We have great shorthand, and we were very collaborative on both movies.
The performer explains his rationale for joining this thriller: ``I had worked with James on Staten Island, New York, and I've known Jason for many years. When I heard they were making this film, I wanted to be a part of it. Jason has a real old-school independent spirit, and that's what I loved about working with him again. The restrictions of independent film, in terms of budgeting, often breed real creativity. That was the case with The Purge.
Fortunately for the production, Hawke had known Blum for more than 20 years, as they had started the Malaparte Theater Company together in the '90s. Notes the
producer: ``Ethan has a unique ability to transform himself into the characters he plays, and while he portrays an initially one-dimensional character in this film, he ends up being both a hero and a villain. That requires a skill set that can be very difficult to navigate, but he does so incredibly well.
This was Fuller's first experience with Hawke, and he was as impressed as his fellow filmmakers. Shares Fuller: ``What's wonderful about Ethan is that he's truly an artist. When you talk to him about the choices that he makes, they're not dependent on commerce; they're dependent on where he feels that he gets an opportunity to stretch.
Although James starts out as a deliberately flat protagonist, as the film progresses, he becomes much more complex. Because his life is put into grave danger, not to mention the safety of his family, he goes to a very territorial, aggressive place. DeMonaco reflects: ``James represents the apathy of the New America. He sells The Purge security systems to the rich, so he's completely bought into The Purge propaganda; it's served him well and made him very rich. But this attack on his home and family has made him rethink everything.
Hawke was enthused to tackle the role: ``What James does that's subversive and interesting is that he sets the movie in a near future that's readily identifiable. At its core it's about how, in the name of providing for your family, you can turn a blind eye to your ethics. James Sandin sees himself as the perfect guy. Then, slowly, he finds out that he's actually out of touch with everything; things are much more complicated than he was envisioning them.
DeMonaco was equally as thrilled about Lena Headey accepting the role of Mary Sandin, a woman who has lost her connection to her husband and has begun to feel dead inside. As her family's horrific night wears on, Mary is pushed to a breaking point and fights to protect her home, husband and children from the violent intruders. Known for star-making roles in such work as 300 and television's Game of Thrones, the British actress commands the screen. Of her performance, the director commends: ``We were lucky to get someone of Lena's caliber. I saw her as Sarah Connor on the Terminator TV series, so I knew she could be tough. She's a very subtle actress, and she just knocked it out of the park.
Headey enjoyed the challenges her character afforded her. The actress reflects: ``Mary starts out as this Stepford-esque wife, and she's numb to her life. She has become apathetic with how the nation has changed and how she has or has not contributed to that. She is morally opposed to The Purge and does not participate, but recognizes it as a necessary evil and has tried to accept it because it's her family's reality.
The performer speaks to what the entire cast and crew wondered about over the course of production: What would happen if we really lived in this world? Headey offers: ``That's what frightens me the most. Who knows what we would do if someone went to us and said, 'There's going to be no consequence for your actions.' I think we most definitely need consequences!
DeMonaco was familiar with young performer Max Burkholder's work on NBC's Parenthood and when Burkholder came in for an audition, the director felt he was ideal for the role of Charlie, James and Mary's 14-year-old son. Charlie serves as the moral compass of the film, and while he does bring in trouble, he tries to steer his family onto a moral path. Offers DeMonaco: ``Charlie's humanistic and relatable. At such a young age, he questions The Purge. He's so against it, which is why he ultimately disables the security system and lets the desperate stranger inside their home.
Burkholder was excited to be a part of such a challenging film. ``Charlie doesn't judge a book by its cover, so to speak, he says. ``He sees this homeless man and takes him in, and he's not sure if he's dangerous or not. He just saw someone who needed his help.
Adelaide Kane was brought on board the production to play Zoey, James and Mary's 16-year-old daughter, who is very much a rebellious teenager. She's a straight-A student but can never seem to truly impress her overly driven father, who is furious she's dating a young man several years older than she is. On the night of The Purge, Zoey excuses herself from the dinner table after talk of the coming evening grows disturbing. Provides the actress: ``Zoey has known about The Purge her entire life; she's very uncomfortable with it. But, of course, she lives in that safe bubble that all teenagers do where they think nothing bad will ever happen...that bad things only happen to other people.
The night takes a terrifying turn with the arrival of the stranger, a role that went to actor Edwin Hodge. The character, a homeless man, comes into the Sandin family's life while being chased by the band of Freaks and serves as the catalyst for the Sandins' deep involvement in The Purge. To save himself, the stranger climbs the fence into the gated community where the Sandin family resides.
DeMonaco provides that the stranger's entrance into the Sandins' lives drives a wedge among the family: ``After Charlie opens the security barricades and lets the stranger inside their home to help him, then that draws the people chasing him to their home and sets off the evening of mayhem. The family is given an ultimatum by the group's polite leader to return the stranger to him. If they deny the psychotic request, the leader promises that his gang will break through the barricaded security system and kill them all.
Hodge walks us through his character's night: ``Through the chaos, my character ends up hiding, and Charlie utilizes his remote-controlled robot toy to guide me to his secret space inside his closet. That's where I take sanctuary for a while. Hodge echoes the cast's initial trepidation about going to very dark places. ``During production, I was able to truly understand what my character is going through in terms of the hostility against him. It is going to be a fascinating experience for the audience to watch all this play out.
As the Sandins run into a night full of moral dilemmas and try to navigate their way through the attack, the eerily polite leader, played by Rhys Wakefield, makes their lives a waking nightmare. Truly, this character represents the upper class in a different manner than James. While the head of household has become rich off of The Purge by selling security systems to the very wealthy, the leader feels that it's his right as a member of the elite to participate in the night's mayhem. He feels that it makes him a better person and keeps the poor off the streets for good.
What sets the leader apart from the other killers in the film is that he is simultaneously articulate, charismatic and creepy. Producer Blum enjoyed the turn that this part provides, noting: ``James came up with something very different for Rhys' character. He wanted him and his group to be dressed like they just came from a
prestigious fraternity at an Ivy League school. Rhys is the leader, and he feels it's his right to purge; it's his right to kill people that night, and he's very adamant about it.
The supporting cast of The Purge was tasked with their own set of challenging roles. They were brought along to play characters that circle the Sandin family home and either draw them out or kill them where they hide. Cast as the band of Freaks who accompany the polite stranger with an arsenal of weapons were BOIMA BLAKE, CHESTER LOCKHART, ALICIA VELA-BAILEY, TYLER JAYE, NATHAN CLARKSON and JOHN WESELCOUCH.
For DeMonaco, these affectless killers are the scariest characters in his story. He notes: ``The Freaks, like their leader, feel that The Purge is their God-given right and they treat it like a freakish Halloween, donning masks and costumes. They're terrifying.
Nothing Is Impenetrable:
Creating Evil Paradise
DeMonaco and the producers assembled a stellar below-the-line team to bring their vision to life. Production designer Melanie Paizis-Jones crafted the looks for the Sandin home, while director of photography Jacques Jouffret was tasked with capturing the perfect moments during the brief shooting schedule for Peter Gvozdas to edit. Rounding out the key team leads, costume designer Lisa Norcia and composer Nathan Whitehead knew they would have to put their expertise in the genre to quick work to hit their deadlines due to the tight production schedule.
Design and Location
Finding the home that would provide the desired focal point of forced entry on the night of The Purge was a daunting task for the crew. DeMonaco begins: ``It was hard to find the kind of house I wanted in Los Angeles. I didn't want it to look like L.A. I wanted it to look like middle America and to represent the type of 'new rich' in America that would be happening at this point.
Fuller agrees that it was a challenge, particularly for production designer Paizis-Jones. The producer says: ``We all recognize the house is the star of the film, and we
searched for a long time before we finally found this house in Chatsworth, California. At first we weren't able to make a deal with the owner, but after a lot of discussion, we decided to shorten our shooting schedule in order to be able to afford this house.
As the home plays a large role in the thriller, it had to be perfect, inside and out. Blum notes: ``Our locations are very important in our movies because most of the films occur in one place. What made this house ideal was that it was extremely relatable. It's about 10,000 square feet, but houses that size are often tacky and this wasn't. That was a very compelling thing about it: You could relate to people actually living in it.
One of the house's most disturbing occupants also served as our guide through it. Charlie's homemade sidekick, a remote-controlled doll-tank hybrid named Timmy, was a set prop that cast and crew alike loved. The audience's POV throughout much of the movie, Timmy serves as a voyeur into the terrifying night. Remarks Blum: ``Timmy was clever on James' part. People are used to seeing media in very different places, and that part of the movie plays into our being surrounded by it. I loved the idea that you would have a remote-controlled tank that would take images from around the house and you could use that to see everything.
Dressed to Kill
Considering that the film is set a mere nine years in the future, costume designer Norcia wanted to make sure the colors and designs weren't too futuristic for the characters, yet still had a dystopic sensibility. She recounts: ``The project came to life for me, and I started having my version of what it would look and sound like. A week later, I met with James to go over my vision, and we were very similar in how we saw things.
For the part of James, the designer decided on the classic pinstripe. ``He wears the conservative dad shirt, that's never going to go out of style, Norcia continues. The inspiration for Headey's Mary was an upper-class conservative, but simply dressed, mother.
Alternately, a Catholic schoolgirl came to mind when Norcia was designing for Kane's Zoey. She offers: ``We wanted to keep Zoey in that uniform to show her vulnerability throughout The Purge. It was important to keep her very innocent because that's how her father still sees her.
When imagining the costumes for Burkholder's Charlie, Norcia was all about layers. She notes: ``He does the layering pieces of the grays and the whites, so that he would fit in, but he is the character that has a conscience and is scared of what was happening out in the world. Those layers are his shields, his personal armor.
Imagining the masks for the violent Freaks was the most fun for Norcia. She relays: ``When we started out with the Freaks, we had these ideas that they were all going to be unique and scary. That was all well and good in theory, but we ended up going through more than 100 different masks and couldn't settle on anything.
Finally, they came up with a very simple female mask, and it worked beautifully. Concludes the director: ``We dressed the Freaks like they were going out for Halloween in these scary costumes, and they are dressed to kill. We put these female masks on them and had them carrying axes and machetes and machine guns. The whole thing is very macabre.
Universal Pictures presents a Platinum Dunes/Blumhouse/Why Not Production: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey in The Purge, starring Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder. The casting is by Lisa Fields, and the line producer is Gerard DiNardi. The film's costume design is by Lisa Norcia. The co-producer is Jeanette Volturno-Brill. The Purge's music is by Nathan Whitehead, and the film is edited by Peter Gvozdas. The film's production design is by Melanie Paizis-Jones, and its director of photography is Jacques Jouffret. The speculative thriller is produced by Jason Blum, p.g.a.; Sébastien K. Lemercier, p.g.a.; Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller. The Purge is written and directed by James DeMonaco. (C) 2013 Universal Studios. www.blumhouse.com/film/thepurge