Purgatory House Movie Review

It seems obvious that the best way to get deep inside a teen's troubles would be by talking to a teen. So how close can any filmmaker get to a young adult's real issues? Damn close, it would appear, when the screenplay comes directly from the source -- in this case, a 14-year-old writer/actress named Celeste Davis. Producer/director Cindy Baer rests her feature film debut on this inexperienced creative mind, lending Purgatory House both plusses and minuses.

There's a lack of polish and, more importantly, an uninhibited demeanor to Davis's script which work well for the subject matter -- a high school girl (played by Davis), after taking her own life, finds herself eternally trapped in a bizarre home with other successful teen suicides. Davis clearly pours her heart and ideals into the narrative, conveying plenty of gravity and complexity (flashbacks, dream sequences, moments of spare dialogue) despite her youthful viewpoint. Baer's biggest accomplishment as a producer is in guiding this unapologetic, sometimes awkward voice to the screen.

But allowing Davis such creative freedom is also the film's greatest weakness. Some of Purgatory House's sloppier moments feel like the ramblings of a bright high schooler writing to pass time in detention. Davis's script remains untouched (according to press notes), but the film would've been well served if Baer's direction lifted the parts that needed it, just by tightening up dialogue or adding a smoother touch. Without that, some scenes play like a well-made college production, with the digital videography adding to the occasional amateur feel.

If Celeste Davis needs time and work to blossom into a practiced screenwriter, her acting chops are already on the mark. As Silver Marie Strand, the girl who rethinks her short life and eternal fate, Davis is open, smart and patient, everything that a viewer could ask for in a performance. She plays off her weaker co-stars with ease, and her timing has a confidence that overpowers any rough edges.

Most impressive are the moments of schoolgirl fantasy that Davis unabashedly leaps into. When Silver meets God (Jim Hanks, Tom's younger brother, in drag) on the set of a far-out, loser-goes-to-hell game show, Davis never reveals a second of hesitancy. The idea may seem unrefined, even silly, and the special effects cheap and hokey, but the star offers honest pain and confusion. That's what keeps a viewing audience interested.

Baer's direction does support that same hell-be-damned (no pun) attitude, but she misses a few opportunities to add a taste of gentle maturity to the film. When a utopian special effects sequence has people of all kinds joining hands, a Tarot card whizzes on and off-screen, like some late-night fortune-telling infomercial. Perhaps small moments like this spew directly from young Davis's overactive brain? In that case, with age, experience and a continued lack of self-consciousness, Celeste Davis will prove to be a true shining talent.

Purgatory's looking better every day.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer :


Comments

Purgatory House Rating

" OK "

Rating: NR, 2003

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