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Purgatory (2014) (Purgatorio)
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by Jay Seaver

"Some intense adventures in babysitting."
4 stars

SCREENED AT FANTASTIC FEST 2014: Though it's not uncommon to encounter one that makes a good case for its greater length at all, most horror movies would be best served running seventy-five to eighty minutes, long enough to set a story up, make the audience jump a few times, and stick a twist or two in without giving them the chance to realize that what's going on makes no sense. So let's give a cheer to "Purgatorio", a nifty little thriller that doesn't have an ounce of fat on it.

It starts as any number of scary movies do, with Marta (Oona Chaplin) and her husband Luis (Andrés Gertrúdix) moving into a new apartment in a recently renovated building. Luis works the night shift, so Marta is unpacking on her own until Ana (Ana Fernandez), one of the very few other neighbors, is unexpectedly called into work herself and asks Marta to watch her son Daniel (Sergi Mendez). It doesn't take long for the kid to reveal himself to be more than a bit of a brat, with a taste for creepy and tasteless pranks. And if any of the weird goings-on are for real...

I didn't think much of Purgatorio for much of its first third or so; it starts off on a fairly slow burn, holding the sort of information that might normally be used as foreshadowing or myth-building back, so there didn't seem to be much story. The cast was doing the best that they could with artificial constraints, making for a few good moments, but it was looking kind of forgettable.

Then it got to its double-barreled twist action, and while the quick-arriving second one didn't initially do much for me, the first seemed legitimately shocking and angering, providing a pretty fascinating context for the rest of the movie. Writers Sergio G. Sanchez & Luis Moreno set up a situation that is not particularly complicated but still has room for reversals even in a fairly bounded movie, as well as the chance for emotions to run high. Director Pau Teixidor takes this and runs with it, greatly picking up the pace, although not to the point where the audience might lose track of things, while also making good use of how the apartment has become a familiar space even if the rest of the building hasn't. Some modest visual effects are effective, and the film as a whole settles into the right niche - half spooky potential-ghost story, half the sort of fairy tale that offers harsh consequences for getting out of line.

Throughout all this, the film is very close to a two-person show. Oona Chaplin has most of the screen time, and she's quietly strong from the start, both a bit morose and winding down in terms of energy as the movie starts, and making Marta authentically uncomfortable at having this strange kid placed in her care, but not pushing it so far as to distance Marta from the viewer. This builds not just to freak-outs but hot and cool rages, the kind of protagonist the audience is with even if it's not sure where she's going to jump next. Sergi Mendez, meanwhile, makes sure we can take an entirely human dislike to Daniel early on that falls well short of wanting the kid dead, which is a big help when the situation gets upended later on - lots of times, this sort of character will come off as practically alien from being touched by the supernatural our irredeemably insufferable, and Mendez keeps Daniel more interesting than that. Andrés Gertrúdix has a few good scenes as Luis, but he's not around for that long.

"Purgatorio" is not tremendously complex; it's simple enough that one might feel that there not exactly much new to it. On the other hand, it's got enough going on to both keep a viewer guessing and have the movie as while be more than a guessing game.

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originally posted: 12/03/14 14:34:44
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