Sunday, October 23, 2016

House of Purgatory and a Trip to Hell: A Film Review

*full disclosure: an online screener of this film was provided by Terror Films. This critic has worked on some publicity for this title.

**there are spoilers here.

Director/writer: Tyler Christensen.

Cast: Torey Michael Adkins, Laura Coover, Aaron Galvin, Brian Krause and Marika Engelhardt.

House or Purgatory is a recent horror release from Terror Films and first time director Tyler Christensen. Filmed partly in Wisconsin, the film's central story is based on an urban legend. At a haunted house attraction, participants can get there money back, if they can get through the scariest attraction, ever built! Christensen sets a consistent dramatic, horrifying tone. However, the moral of his story is muddied along the way. The setting is supposed to be Purgatory, but the evidence suggests that this is Hell. Yet, none of characters are the typical sinners. The film's story would have been more cohesive, if Christensen would have stuck closer to Dante Alighieri's interpretation of Purgatory. As it is, House of Purgatory is both entertaining and slightly puzzling.

The film element this viewer enjoyed the most was the dark tone. Christensen and the musical department, comprised of Patrick Giraudi and long-time film composer Kurt Oldman, have constructed a great musical score here. The notes are often dramatic and they help amplify the tension on-screen. For instance, the character Ryan (Bryan Fry) lurks around his high school (really a level in Hell). The soundtrack creates brooding notes, which make it feel like a sinister villain could jump out, at any time. In this same series of scenes, the lighting is appropriately dimmed as Ryan confronts a hidden part of himself. The darkness and brooding musical choices create a true terrifying and compelling viewing experience. The filmmakers have created an affective horror watching experience.

The story is slightly less well done. In the film, four friends set out to find a mysterious Halloween attraction. It is rumoured to be found just out of city limits. The legend states that no one has ever made it all the way through this haunted house. If these friends can make it all the way to the end, they will get their money back and bragging rights. Initially, they begin the ride with some courage. Soon, their strength wilts as their deepest secrets are brought out into the light. One girl is forced to confront her pregnancy and termination, while another must face his true sexual desires. The Devil is leading the events along and forcing the internal confrontations. Yet, his identity and the actual hellish location, of the haunted house, are weakly set-up.

The film's title suggests the film is set in Purgatory; this is actually Hell. Before entering the ride, a skeletal character (the Devil, played by Brian Krause) states: "abandon all hope, for it cannot penetrate these walls." This statement is lifted from the ancient text - Dante's Inferno, part of the Divine Comedy. This same saying appears on an inscription, leading into Dante's Hell: "all hope abandon ye who enter here." While their are no fires at the entrance, it is quickly apparent that this is a journey into the Devil's lair. As well, the characters begin at the top and descend, downwards. Hell is often described, in ancient texts, as being below: "the descent into Hell is easy (Virgil)." There are many temptations in life. And, the film's devilish character has a final line, which alludes to the haunted house as being set in hell: "to keep a fire going, sometimes, you need to add fuel." What needs more fuel than the fires of Hell? There is only one line to suggest this is Purgatory, spoken by a skeletal man: "nobody escapes purgatory." There is little other film evidence, outside of the title, to suggest that this is Purgatory. Instead, the characters are trespassing in Hell and their own sins are tormenting them, here.

This viewer and avid readers wishes Christensen would have stuck closer to Dante's actual sins for Purgatory and Hell. As it is, the characters are not guilty of any of the fourteen sins, with the possible exception of lust. The sins of Hell include: limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy and violence. Meanwhile, the sins of Purgatory are: pride, envy, wrath, sloth, covetous, gluttony and again - lust. The Christians really had a problem with sex, in the 14th Century! In the film and on the topic of sin, Amber (Laura Coover) has had an abortion, before the start of the film. While an abortion is considered a sin, in Catholicism, it is definitely not a sin of Purgatory. Another character has homosexual desires. Again, this is a sin in Catholicism, but not a sin of Purgatory. Even stranger, one character has been raped by a relative, so why would she be in Hell, at all? She should not be there (unless guilty of lust) and neither should any of the four characters, according to Dante's rules for Purgatory. Unfortunately, Christensen appears unfamiliar with the writings on the setting, in which his story takes place.

House of Purgatory is a recent Video-on-demand horror release. This film fan has seen this title on the Playstation Network and it is available across multiple territories. This outing is entertaining and often unsettling. Still, the writing and the film's morality are a bit muddy. While unfair to compare Se7en (1995) to this smaller film, Se7en and writer Andrew Kevin Walker utilize the seven deadly sins of Purgatory more consistently. The rules of Purgatory are all but forgotten in this horror entry. And, the social, or moral message of the film suffers, a bit, because of it.

Overall: 6.75 out of 10.

*a great and relevant quote from Dante Alighieri: "the darkest places in Hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."

House of Purgatory at Terror Films: House of Purgatory at Terror Films

A closer look at Dante's sins in Purgatory: The Sins of Purgatory at Dante Worlds

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