Movie Review: Elaine Chu's THE PURGATION

Welcome witches and warlocks,

Today I will be reviewing the psychological horror feature THE PURGATION by writer/director Elaine Chu.  To best sum up the story, I will turn to the IMDB plot description:

Iris thinks she's going crazy.  To stay sane, she must confront her past by revisiting the site of a childhood trauma - the old county asylum. 

There is something unnerving about a clinical, regimented atmosphere being inhabited by the clearly unpredictable.  This juxtaposition forms the basis for every asylum or state mental facility ever built.  We isolate the malefactors and try to bring order to chaos, but more often than not it does not work.  By keeping them out of sight, we do not have to focus on how hopeless their situation is, nor reflect on the futility battle against chaos.  

This idea of facing up to the past and the insanity contained there is the driving force behind this film.  Our lead becomes so obsessed with what she experienced during her childhood she structures her entire life around that one event.  Then, using her career, she returns to her hometown in an effort to delve back into the scene of her trauma to try to figure out why it all happened in the first place.  Like the asylums of old, she tries to bring order to the chaos of her life. 

This movie does a good job of demonstrating or hinting towards Iris' issues without ever going so over the top as to make her unbelievable.  The fact that she is written in such a genuine fashion allows for some nice character moments between her and the supporting cast.  These scenes are probably my favorite as they feel authentic yet are imbued by a dark nostalgia. 

A certain sentimentality pervades the opening 20 minutes of this picture as we are introduced to a young Iris and her friends.  The young cast has an easy chemistry that puts us firmly on their side from the get go.  As the story veers away from its STAND BY ME (1986) reminiscent beginning and turns to more paranormal fare; some of the kid actors shine while the others remain adequate.  To be honest, the young cast does so much better when they are not playing scared, that I would love to see them reunite for a non-horror themed feature. 

The creep factor presented comes from the asylum setting combined with Iris' own sanity.  For a time it is unclear exactly what is real and what merely exists in her head leaving the audience just as off balance as Iris herself.  Whether or not she is imagining what is going on, there is a clear cut antagonist in the form of an abusive nun.  While the idea of religious extremism is unnerving, I found the man with the eyes sewn shut to be a much more imposing visual image. I believe he ends up appearing as much as, if not more than, the nun so I found him to be the more disturbing character. 

Given the pieces in play, I expected a bit more from the finale.  That is not to say that the ending is unsatisfactory, just that it seemed like there were going to be some bigger revelations to close out the film.  I did like that even though the voice over at the end had an upbeat tone backed up by positive imagery, the words themselves held just enough doubt to leave it a bit open to interpretation. 

All in all, this may not cover any new ground, but it manages to remain interesting thanks to the focus upon someone trying to bring order to their chaos. The character moments that make up this battle are the most defining feature of this film and brought an extra dimension to the story.  This is a promising debut that borrows some imagery and themes from "American Horror Story: Asylum" (2012) and "It" (1990)Mo so fans of those should give this a try.  Also, Stitches Man is an effectively creepy visual. 

Nighty Nightmares
The Creeping Craig

THE PURGATION will be available on VOD August 16.