When September rolls into town, many of us start gearing up for the return of fall. We start getting ready for the upcoming holidays like Halloween, drowning our sorrows in pumpkin spice as we wave goodbye to summer. But, little do people know, Daughter’s Day appears in September. Like Father’s and Mother’s Day, Daughter’s Day is meant to celebrate the daughters in our lives and how important and precious their existence is in our lives. However, in some cultures, a daughter’s life is only as important as the maintaining of her purity. This is the case in some pockets of the United States today, where some churches hold purity balls and have daughters wear purity rings to symbolize their promise to wait until marriage. These practices aren’t often reciprocated by sons. The pressure is on the daughters to maintain their purity and worth. These double standards are what Hulu and Blumhouse aim to explore in the horror anthology series INTO THE DARK’s Daughter’s Day-themed episode titled PURE.
The episode focuses on a group of teen girls who are attending a Purity Retreat with their fathers. For Shay (played by Jahkara Smith), this trip also represents her chance to get to know her birth father Kyle (played with great sliminess by Jim Klock) for the first time in her life and to finally have the father-daughter experience she has always dreamed of. The night they arrive, all four girls jokingly enact a ritual to summon the demon Lilith to protect them. However, Shay starts to experience supernatural occurrences, with Lilith rearing her face time and time again. But this is not the only thing Shay and the others must fear. As the fathers and the Pastor quickly start tightening their group and wielding punishments against those who would disobey, the girls are led to question what is the true danger at the retreat.
As I try to do, I’m going to try to keep things as spoiler-free as I possibly can. This particular episode was difficult for me to swallow because of the relatability of the subject matter as well as my own experiences as the daughter of a single mother. The messages that this film hoped to convey are delivered well albeit sometimes with a heavy hand, but that is the drawback of relying on one of the more controversial religious social practices be the base of the movie. With such an extreme event like a Purity Retreat, it can’t be helped that it would come across as very strong. I have to give props to the director and writer Hannah Macpherson for making the Purity Retreat feel like everything I remembered from my own experiences in religion as well as some of the experiences my other female friends have dealt with. Using a very religious social practice as the backdrop highlights the issue at hand because, for anyone who has actively been involved in certain religious faiths, this will feel very familiar. And, to be perfectly honest, you may want to end up punching the male characters a lot in this because the hypocrisy is so blatantly revealed. This is very much the case with Shay’s and Jo’s father who is literally the peak example of sexual hypocrisy in PURE.
Diving a little deeper into the thematic material, there is a lot to digest and explore. Mostly, though, we get to see how the individual girls handle the realities of the pressure the fathers in this film place on them to be sexually pure. And how each girl reacts to being controlled by their fathers. Through this exploration among the girls, we get to know them, know their struggles as they try to live up to the demands placed upon them. It’s more than just a matter of remaining pure. It’s relinquishing bodily autonomy. It’s being placed on a pedestal that can crumble at any moment and, ultimately, it’s a lifetime of stress until their fathers are willing to relinquish that control over to a man they deem worthy enough to give the reins to. Watching these girls sort their feelings surrounding these demands was both painful and cathartic as all reacted in unique and – sometimes – heartbreaking ways.
There is also the matter of discussing the discourse in feminist culture that PURE presents to us. The film hands us the subject of the double standard in place between women and men. However, the casting of Shae as a person of color changes the dynamic. Immediately, the character of Shae presents as an outsider as a child born out of wedlock. Adding to that, this is her first Purity Retreat and as is revealed later on she has had a secret boyfriend. These are all things that set her apart. However, her being a person of color is what changes the narrative. Her involvement in trying to wake the mostly white girls up is so familiar in the realm of feminist discussion. These girls can’t save themselves. It is up to the person of color, the outsider within the realm of this mostly Caucasian space, to pave the way for them to find their inner strength and regain their autonomy. I’m not 100% certain if this discourse was an intentional decision, but I did want to take note of this because others might have similar thoughts.
Overall, I really enjoyed PURE for the lessons that the film carried while also hitting me in the gut on a personal level. It was difficult not to relate to Shay and her struggles as a daughter without a father for the longest time. While there may be some that question how scary this film is, I’d argue that the fear that is generated is not by the coming of Lilith, but by the human monsters that reside in the film instead. There are men out there that actually view their daughter’s lives this way and treat them as such. It is through these controlling and – dare I say – emasculated men that the true horror lies.
The new Daughter’s Day-themed episode PURE will be available on Hulu this Friday, September 6th.
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