A group of people awaken inside a home with no memory of who they are or how they got there and worse, there seems to be a supernatural force preventing them from leaving. Attempting to find answers to who they are and why they're in the home, these strangers begin to wander down the haunted halls of the home.
A review for Travis Miller's "Purgatorium" has long been overdue and I know it's weird that this movie made it onto Film Bizarro's Best of 2013 list but I'm just now reviewing it. What can I say though, I'm terrible at time management. Anyway, Travis was able to capture a lot of attention with his feature film debut of "Bloodstained Romance". A movie that was admittedly rough but you could see the potential Travis had as he chose to make a character and story driven movie instead of going for the obvious and frequently done gore movie. The fact that he went the road less travelled with "Bloodstained Romance" peaked my interest with his latest, "Purgatorium", which, as far as I'm concerned, shows that he is a very interesting independent horror filmmaker.
A group of strangers find themselves trapped inside a very strange home. With no memory, no forms of ID and no seemingly way of escaping the home -- smashing out the windows even proves to be ineffective -- these people are left with no other option other than to explore the house. With each room and each creaking step, they begin to suspect that the house is more than their unexplained prison as there is something in the house with them and each person is forced to explore their own dark past.
With a bit of a noir and '40s flare, "Purgatorium" takes on some interesting aesthetics as Travis Miller seems to bring in some rather unexpected influences from the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and the TV series "The Twilight Zone". There's even a unique lighting scheme that seems to be reminiscent of older Italian gothic horror in the vein of Mario Bava. It's these kind of influences Travis brought in is why I continue to find him and his work to be fascinating because it is vastly different from what is often being released from the low-budget and independent world of horror movies.
Now don't misunderstand what I'm saying; these influences are there and Travis is proud of where he draws his inspiration from but his material is his own. It's not being done for the sake of paying a homage or trying to recreate something for nostalgia. He is finding his own voice by telling a story in the style of what he enjoyed or found interesting and as a result, Travis created a uniquely engaging mysterious horror movie that is "Purgatorium".
What stands out with "Purgatorium" is the naturally progressing and well paced story and that keeps up it's mystery from start to finish. These days it seems that movies with "twists" are more interested in trying to out smart the audience who is trying to beat the movie to the punch. So to speak. As a result of the contest to see who can get there first, the end result is usually an inept film that is unable to deliver anything satisfactory. With "Purgatorium" you can certainly deduce where the story is going and what the mystery is -- the clues are there for you from the very beginning. And that's fine, it's not the movie's concern on whether or not you know what's going to happen at the start or until the end. It's interest lies with telling an engaging and mysterious story where people are forced to look within themselves to solve the puzzle that comes in the shape of a haunted house.
Travis is able to do this and create a story that was so good that it felt like it could have been a "Twilight Zone" episode. "Purgatorium" has some rough spots as well, just like most indie movies, but the focus on letting a twisting and turning story unfold naturally was so refreshing that it overshadowed those few rough moments. There's no gimmicks here and the movie never attempts to "out smart" the audience -- it's just a well told thriller-mystery with a touch of horror and supernatural elements that resulted in a rather compelling watch. Say what you will, but it is a delight to watch a movie that no point ever feels forced and just lets you get pulled into the story.
There's actually quite a lot that I found impressive with "Purgatorium" from a technical standpoint: amazing costumes, set pieces, set design, sound design, lighting and cinematography. It's an overused word in reviews -- I know I've used it before -- but "Purgatorium" is refreshing. You truly don't see many movies that can recreate the vibe of '40s/'50s -esque thrillers so well from both a story and visual perspective. But the one thing that makes me encourage people to give this movie a shot and to check it out is because Travis Miller found a great way of telling a story. It's an easy movie to allow yourself to get pulled into its story, one that's ripe with atmosphere to a point that you'll stop trying to guess what happens and just watch it unfold.