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How The Purge Was Able to Sneak Politics Into A Horror Movie

How do you make political horror movie? Hope no one's paying attention, apparently. 

A still image from The Purge (2013)

It's been a decade since The Purge, the high-concept horror film from writer/director James DeMonaco that launched a franchise already spanning five films and counting and one two-season television series. The Purge's impact at this point in its history isn't in question at all, and that's thanks in no small part to the political currents running through the story of a near-future America where all crime is legal for one night each year. 

The political commentary of the original Purge film is perhaps not quite as pointed as future installments would be, but it's definitely still there. That film follows a wealthy family (led by parents Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey) as they hole up for the night of the annual Purge, only to find an unusual set of circumstances lines them up to be victims. Over the course of the night, we learn more about the Purge, including more about the right wing political party that set up the event, how Purging disproportionately kills and injures the poor and marginalized, and how the rich have made the night into their own private playground without consequence. 

RELATED: James DeMonaco on Why The Purge 6 Remains 'In Limbo' For Now

Speaking to The Playlist about the film's social and political commentary 10 years later, DeMonaco credited the nature of the story, in part, to producer Jason Blum's championing of the concept. 

Max Burkholder, Lena Headey, and Ethan Hawke in The Purge (2013)

“What’s great about Jason [Blum], and I’ll always stand by this, is he loves political content. And he saw [The Purge] as maybe something different than straight horror, something with sociopolitical underpinnings,” DeMonaco said. “It had a metaphor. It was more like, what he loves and I love, John Carpenter and George Romero, and we were trying to smuggle some sociopolitical ideas into genre cinema…And I think he saw it as a way to do something different than the straight ghost story or demon horror.”

Having Blum, one of horror's biggest rising stars at the time, in DeMonaco's corner for the making of The Purge was certainly vital to its success, but that didn't necessarily mean everyone else along the way was going to automatically be so cool with the film's messaging and metaphors. So, how does DeMonaco think he was able to make the film while dodging the concerns of studio executives? Simple. The Purge was a small movie, and was therefore able to sail under the radar. 

“To be honest, I don’t think they were paying attention,” he said. “I think they were just letting Jason do his thing. [The Purge] is a $2 million film, and they’re making $100 million films simultaneously and that’s where their energy goes. We didn’t get many notes. It was the strangest thing. We were just left free to just go make the film. We actually got more notes when the film became a hit.”

Despite those notes after the fact, The Purge managed to launch a series of films that dug further into the sociopolitical metaphors that helped make the first movie successful, including films like The Purge: Election Year and The First Purge. Now, it's one of the best-known horror franchises of the last decade, all thanks to that $2 million original story. 

Catch the entire five-movie The Purge film series from Universal Pictures.