Naomi Watts, Frank Grillo, and Bobby Cannavale star in drama which takes place on release date of third Rocky Balboa slugfest.

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This is the Night
This Is the Night
| Credit: Blumhouse Productions

Writer-director James DeMonaco looked deep into the eye of the tiger for his new film This Is the Night (out on Digital, Sept. 21) about a family whose members are inspired to change their lives by watching a certain Sylvester Stallone film.

"It's 1982, it's Staten Island, New York, it's the day Rocky III opens," the filmmaker tells EW. "It's an incredibly anticipated event in the lives of these Italian-Americans. The movie's a homage to the experience of seeing films in a theater, watching this family, inspired by Rocky III, go out, fight their fears, and be courageous in ways they haven't been courageous before."

The family's parents are played by Frank Grillo and Naomi Watts. "The dad runs a party hall which is mob-financed, which a lot of places were in Staten Island back in the day," says DeMonaco, a Staten Island native himself. "So he took many loans from is childhood friend, who's the local mob boss, [played by] Bobby Cannavale. Naomi is playing more of the quiet mom at home who rises up and fights back against the hyper-masculine dad, who thinks he's ruling the roost, but she truly is. She is the heart of the film, Naomi."

Jonah Hauer-King plays the couple's older son while Lucius Hoyos is his younger sibling. "The older brother is struggling with his sexual identity and in a time where it's much different than it is now, where you can find like-minded people through various ways," says DeMonaco. "You couldn't find that in Staten Island in 1982. The younger son has been madly in love with the local mob boss's daughter, who seems unobtainable. They knew each other when they were younger because their dads were friends, but she's now dating the local bully. The movie inspires that young son to rise up and say, 'Tonight, I'm going to tell her I love her.'"

This is the Night
This Is the Night
| Credit: Blumhouse Productions

DeMonaco is best known for his involvement in The Purge franchise. The filmmaker directed the first three films in the horror-thriller series and has written all of the movies, including this year's now-available-to-watch-on-Digital The Forever Purge.

"I wrote This Is the Night right after Purge I, but I had the idea before that," says DeMonaco. "I've always had this idea in my mind abut the opening of Rocky III on Staten Island. Luckily, Jason (Jason Blum, Blumhouse founder) was able to get the financing because we had some success on The Purge. So, though I sometimes have Purge fatigue, as I tell my producers, I'm forever thankful that it allowed me to make a personal film."

DeMonaco shot This Is the Night in (where else?) Staten Island. "Where the boys are walking was right where I grew up walking," says the director. "The bar the boys go to was around decades ago when I first was sneaking into bars with my fake ID at 16, 17. It was great to go back there. It was cool."

The result is both a love letter to the Staten Island of the early '80s and to the cinemagoing experience. "What changed my life is that my dad started taking me to movies," says DeMonaco, whose new film is receiving a limited theatrical release at New York's Village East by Angelika on Sept. 17. "Seeing stuff from Rocky to Apocalypse Now to Dog Day Afternoon in theaters and feeling the impact of the big screen and sharing that with other folks was very meaningful to me. I don't think we can replicate that experience at home. I just don't think we can, no matter how hard we try."

This Is the Night
Director James DeMonaco on the set of This Is the Night
| Credit: KC Bailey/Blumhouse Productions

DeMonaco is delighted to reveal that his film received a big thumbs up from the man who inspired it: Sylvester Stallone.

"We wanted to show him the film [because] it's a love letter to cinema and to Rocky and he loved it," says the director. "He was in his big screening room and apparently he got up and was shadow-boxing with the movie at one point. I'm like, okay, that's all I need to know. But then he invited us to his house, and we sat there, and we talked about the movie, and he told me he loved it. He actually showed me behind-the scenes footage that had never been shown about the making of Rocky on the biggest TV I've ever seen in my life. I think it was 40 feet high."

This Is the Night costars River Alexander, Chase Vacnin, and Method Man, among others. The film is available to rent or own on digital starting Tuesday.

Watch the trailer for This Is the Night above.

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