The Purge series has become a perennial summer experience for horror fans. When The Purge was released in 2013, it surprised many, taking in almost $90 million world-wide on a reported three million dollar budget. Due to the popularity of the film, the sequel (The Purge: Anarchy) was fast tracked for the summer of 2014, and performed even better at the summer box office ($111 million world-wide). Two years later, The Purge: Election Year continued the winning streak and yet again, topped the previous entries in terms of ticket sales ($118 million world-wide).
After three successful films, especially in the horror genre, it is difficult to keep the momentum going during a competitive summer season. Realizing this, Blumhouse made the smart move to hire director Gerard McMurray (Burning Sands) to reinvigorate the franchise and examine the origins of the all night crime fest in the prequel The First Purge. McMurray was kind enough to take some time out of his busy promotional schedule to discuss his film, cast, and what brought him to The Purge franchise.
Horror News Network: How did you initially become involved in The First Purge?
Gerard McMurray: Blumhouse contacted me about directing the The First Purge after seeing Burning Sands. I thought it was a great idea for me to take on the franchise.
HNN: This is the first film in the series that was not directed by creator James DeMonaco. How did you approach the series as a film maker?
McMurray: I tried to keep the film grounded in a sense of reality within the Purge world. I wanted to explore what it was like for a Black man in America on Purge Night. I brought a lot of personal life experience to the film, having survived Hurricane Katrina and that sense that “no one is coming to help us”.
HNN: How did the current political climate inform aspects of the film?
McMurray: It is a great satire piece and we were able to poke fun at what we see in the world. Reality is scary, but in the horror genre, you can turn the real fears and terror into the boogeyman in your movie, so it works on both levels.
HNN: You filmed most of The First Purge in Buffalo, New York. Is that correct?
McMurray: Yes, Buffalo was our stand in for Staten Island, NY. They treated us great. The mayor of Buffalo, Byron Brown, essentially gave us the key to the city and opened up the whole city to us. We were able to shoot pretty much anywhere and the old factories were scary locations that didn’t need much else. We actually shot next to the Cheerios factory, so we would smell them during filming.
HNN: You assembled a diverse cast for this film, with both newer talent and veteran actors.
McMurray: Yes, the cast was a nice mix. I always try to work with new talent and horror films are known for hiring young actors. I like to fill a cast with actors from all over, so we brought in New York actors, L.A. actors, Atlanta actors, Louisiana actors.
Y’lan Noel is like our super hero in the film and Lex (Scott Davis) brought a lot to the table for her role. It was also an honor to get to work with Marissa Tomei. When you get a chance to grab an established star for a horror movie, you do it. We also brought over Joivan Wade from England and he was great.
HNN: Your first film, Burning Sands, was a different type of “horror film”. How did your experience making a film about college fraternity hazing inform The First Purge?
McMurray: “Hell Night” is definitely a terrifying experience. That is a real life horror story and it creates a brotherhood in those moments, similar to surviving the Purge experience. Both films required me to build tension in the scenes; always anticipating what was next, but never knowing what was around the corner.
I was able to cast a Black male lead in both films and both films use music as a major element of the film.
HNN: How do you explain the longevity of The Purge franchise and why people keep returning to it?
McMurray: I think it is about fun and people wanting to scream and yell in the theater. In the summer, everyone gets patriotic with the fireworks on the Fourth of July and this film is my version of the Revolutionary War. These movies hit on reality and hot topics, but they are also not too heavy-handed so people still want to see them.
HNN: What scares you as an individual in terms of an irrational fear?
McMurray: Birds. I don’t trust them. They are just unpredictable.
The First Purge opens on Wednesday, July 4 at theaters nationwide.