J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Purgation: Bad Karma from Childhood that Never Goes Away

If you ever thought the kids from The Goonies should be consigned to uncanny damnation, this is the film for you. For a lark, Iris and her young pals decided to film their own scrappy horror film in the basement of an abandoned asylum, but she would be the only to walk out physically unscathed. However, she still carries the emotional scars from that fateful day, so she will come walking back into the horror chamber as the producer of a ghost-hunting reality show in Elaine Chu’s The Purgation (trailer here), which releases today on VOD.

After watching their youthful misadventure, we can see why Iris couldn’t wait to get out of Black Falls. Now she has returned, looking for closure and some good footage. Ever since that day, Derrick has been nearly catatonic and Marlene has been violently unstable. She is also blind, having gauged out her eyes. Frankly, visiting them isn’t very reassuring, especially since it might just stir up the evil entity. That could be “Sister” Agnes, a novice nun who was rejected by her order due to her general insanity, so logically she took a position as a psychiatric nurse. She or it doesn’t merely howl and rattle chains. It will warp Iris’s reality, straining her sanity to the breaking point.

Granted, we should always review the film rather than its budget, but in this case, Purgation often looks like it was sabotaged by its own financial constraints. Perhaps most unfortunate is the underwhelming subterranean setting. Instead of giving the film a vivid sense of place (as in the original Grace Encounters and Hollows Grove), the asylum sub-basement just looks cramped and dingy—in the wrong sort of way. It is a shame, because Chu’s second act freak-out is legitimately disturbing. In a departure from other reality-problematizing films, she really gets at how terrifying it would be to have the pins of your sanity kicked out from under you.

Chu also violates the law of Chekhov’s gun, introducing Caden, Iris’s acknowledged imaginary friend, who seems to have his own place in the kid’s social dynamics, despite his lack of existence. In the prologue, he seems to ring with Stephen King-like resonance, but he never factors down the stretch.

Still, there is something very unsettling about Purgation’s childhood roots (and it should be noted Megan Truong has terrific poise and presence as young Iris). To make matters creepier, the film is reportedly based on a real life DIY horror movie field trip the young Chu once led her friends on. The stakes are high and evil is very real and awfully nasty throughout Purgation. As a result, there are some scary moments in the film, but it needed more cinematic locations. Earning mixed feelings and a mixed recommendation (but leaving us receptive for Chu’s next film), The Purgation is now available on VOD platforms from Osiris Entertainment.

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