Creator of American Nightmare and director of the first three films, James DeMonaco has never really let go of the franchise, of which he is still a screenwriter. While the fifth part is coming out, he returns for Première on his saga, his desires for cinema, his passion for Gaspar Noé and his idea of a sixth film “even more dystopian”.
After all this time, how does it feel to come to the end of the franchise?
Look, this is pretty neat. Finally… In fact that might not be the end! I didn’t know until three or four months ago, but we could go on.
In the same universe or would it be a reboot?
No, no, in the same universe. A real sixth film. I pitched the idea to Jason Blum and at the studio, everyone looks really good. I am writing the script. I believe what’s going on in the world right now has fed my thinking about how we could expand the franchise and give it a boost. This is always the key: how to make something new? It goes even further than the idea of a Purge that never stops, we will be in something even more dystopian. I don’t want to reveal too much, but let’s say we have fun with the idea of what America is and what it can become. I think it’s going to be fun to explore. We cross fingers !
So that’s not really the end, but eight years have passed since the first movie came out. Does this universe still amuse you? Do you look at the franchise differently in hindsight?
It is complicated. The older we get, the more our gaze changes. But I’ve always seen these movies first of all like little hybrid thrillers between horror and action. I grew up watching New York 1997, Mad Max 2 Where Green Sun, crazy stuff that was almost B-series, actually. From the start, I had in mind to go hunting on the lands of John Carpenter, George Romero or George Miller. Modest eh, at my small level! I did not see the first American Nightmare other than as a little indie million dollar movie. With my producer Sébastien Lemercier, who was the first to take an interest in the project, we found it super dark. We never imagined for a second that it could exceed a niche audience. And then we met Jason Blum and Universal… I regularly wonder what makes the concept so appealing, what makes people come back to it over and over and it lasts. It’s always so weird for me.
I imagine that the basic idea of the first film is so strong and so simple that you necessarily want to know how the film will handle it. Except that at the beginning we all thought it was a fable, something impossible. And the more time passes …
… The more we say to ourselves that it is far from improbable. Yeah, I wish it wasn’t. At first, I found the idea that this could happen in real life ridiculous: it’s a pure B-series pitch! I don’t think murder will ever be legalized one day, but I can see there is a dissonance, that people are turning more and more in on themselves and refusing to debate. It saddens me to have started from a concept of horror film, a crazy thing, and whatever it is to discuss that…
This American Nightmare 5: No Limits is special because it gives us the impression of stepping back into a very recent past, when America was white-hot. Seen from France, things seem less electric since Donald Trump left the White House. But when you were writing the script, we were in total “Trumpmania” and some footage in the film is reminiscent of the attack on Capitol Hill, which had yet to take place. Did you feel that your country was going to fall apart?
It’s weird. Sébastien – my producer, therefore – keeps telling me that I am Nostradamus. Whereas I’m just a dude sitting in his weird little house on Staten Island, spending his day watching the news. It must infuse in me. And I’m not sure how, I go from my commentary in my scenariosAmerican Nightmare. Except that my intention is always to scare and entertain. Martin Scorsese puts it well when he talks about the cinema of the 40s and 50s: the studio bosses made a lot of war films and westerns, because it worked. And then after a while the directors got fed up, they were bored. This is where guys like Anthony Mann and John Ford started smuggling more personal ideas. Carpenter or Romero took over from these guys, and that’s kind of what I’m trying to replicate. Like nothing, I try to place some of my socio-political views. The problem is, the world has gotten so crazy that it’s hard to be a little subtle! I am constantly overwhelmed by events.
Could you have felt trapped by the success of this franchise, forced to write sequels?
It is a constant struggle. I’m very lucky to have this franchise but you can see it, I moved away from it as a director. I shot the first three and then wrote the scripts for the four and five. Lately I wrote another script and shot this movie, This is the Night, a very personal thing about my love of cinema. Because sometimes I want something else. If I realize American Nightmare 6, I will first shoot another little movie that I wrote. You have to find the right balance between boiling the pot and being artistically content. And then I like meeting new directors and entrusting them with films. American Nightmare.
Can you trust them?
Completely. Afterwards, my confidence can be played at not much (Laughs.) Obviously, I first see their previous films and I talk to them to see if we are on the same wavelength. But like for American Nightmare 5, I drank shots with Everardo Gout and we started talking about Gaspar Noé’s films, of which we are both fans. This is what definitely convinced me.
Gaspar Noé still seems very far from your world!
What fascinates me about him is that he manages to give you the impression that you are living someone else’s dream or nightmare. Like you’re in his head. Experimental cinema at the level ofEnter the Void, it does not run the streets. And Irreversible is the only film in the world to take my breath away. Like, literally: I had no more air in my lungs. The horrific aspects of his cinema and his camera movements inspire me enormously. The music of his films too, I listen to the soundtrack all the timeIrreversible. It was one of the Daft Punk who composed it, right?
Thomas Bangalter, yes.
So. But you’re right, we have very different worlds of cinema. I work for studios most of the time, and he’s completely free. He does not have to ask himself the question of the box office… Which is still not bad!
American Nightmare 5: Limitless, currently in theaters.