Saturday, September 10, 2016

Review: The Purging Hour

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

The Purging Hour (aka Home Video)
Directed by Emmanuel Giorgio Sandoval
Vicious Apple Productions / Ruthless Films / MVD Visual
80 minutes, 2015 / 2016

Naming a film to jump on the success of another that is unrelated is hardly new, especially since the 1980s. Even recently, how many have started with A Haunting in…? It’s no real stretch to guess the theme implied here, or where the name comes from. Actually, if the film holds up, I don’t care what it’s called. But we shall see, eh wot?

In retrospect, despite the name, they seem to try and go a bit more for the style of Paranormal Activity (2007) in that it takes until the last 20 minutes for anything to be of interest, but also keep with the incessant handheld found footage of The Blair Witch Project (1999). It seems like any time the wording at the beginning starts with something like “They were never seen again,” I have found it’s better to… run away!!!

We meet an attractive Latina family who have moved to some mountain resort town in California. This is their first day there and everything is already unpacked and pretty tidy (has anybody on this film ever moved before?). There is the handsome and muscular father, Bruce (Steve Jacques) and beautiful mother (Sophia Louisa), their typically emotional beautiful teenage daughter, Kacie (Alana Chester) and her handsome and model-type boyfriend Mark (Tomas Decurgez) who is there to help, and a young teen son Manny (David Mendoza).

Using a single handheld camera, they tape each other incessantly through the most mundane stuff (cooking burgers on the grill, sitting around the kitchen, and like that). This includes some personal conversations forwhich no one in their right mind would have a camera on (or remain married for long in real life), making some of the characters kind of unlikeable (especially Bruce), which I am going to assume was not the intention of the writers or director.

Intercut in the first two-thirds of the film are interviews with friends, family, and locals, including the sheriff and mayor of this town. Unlike Blair Witch however, these people definitely are actors, not just local non-actors ad libbing. Some are convinced that the family was killed by one of its members, others that it was some outsider (hence the hinting of the movie’s title), and those that are sure it’s something supernatural (conspiracy theorist types).

I’ve seen lots of these kinds of films before, so I found myself looking at backgrounds as much as the characters, such as “Is there something on that hillside?” or “Is that door handle about to turn?” or “Is there a reflection in that mirror?” But no, most of it is just the family being a family, having family conversations (and arguments), living family lives. And yet, there is very little exposition about the characters. You get some idea of their nature, but not the motivation behind it. For example, pretty-boy boyfriend says “I like to draw so maybe I’ll be an architect.” Hunh? Sadly, I know people like that, but that doesn’t explain why he’s so aimless (commentary on his generation, perhaps?). So essentially, the first hour is like watching someone else’s home movies. Wooo-hoooooo.

My annoyance, however, is with the little things that make no sense. Usually I can avoid a couple of anachronisms or errors, but these seem to be a confusion that stands out perhaps because of the slow nature of the film, which makes it stand out more. For example, there is a blackout in the house (all lighting used is off the camera), and yet in the kitchen you can see the blue, electric digital clock on the fridge. Another is the mention that this happened “several years” ago, and yet the key to the car is one of those recent square ones that pop out like a switchblade, and cell phones are spoken of once though never seen; attractive teenage daughter without a cell phone every five minutes? Wow. And does this outage affect any of the other surrounding houses, which don’t really seem that far away. If the car won’t start, run to one of the houses if their lights are on… or even if they’re not.

The one that confuses me the most is that the footage starts with the usually VHS kind of PLAY wording-on-blue-screen and there is a lot of video-style stereotypical “noise” of lines and fading in and out, and the like; however, it’s clearly a camera not a camcorder, and with all the other modern extemporania, such as the aforementioned car keys, it just doesn’t make sense.

I totally respect that Sandoval did a “Robert Rodriguez” and used a largely Latino cast, and mostly they are good at what they do, but considering there are three writers and I’m sure tons of ad libs, there really is no plot, nor narrative, which is what brings this release to a standstill from the get-go. A couple of good bloody scenes and a nice touch and the end, however, aren’t enough to save this, I’m truly sad to say.

If you look at my history of reviewing, I champion indie filmmaking (hell, it’s in the title), but I am also honest (well, what is truthful to me). That being said, Sandoval was about 23 when he made this film. Yeah, he won a district award at high school for a short he directed, so perhaps there is promise there. If perchance he reads this, I am hoping he takes this as sincere criticism, not snarkiness. Let’s consider this film an exercise, and hope that he learns the techniques he needs to make the next one a killer.

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