Good or bad, these are four of the most intriguing DVD releases of the last few weeks: Purgatory House – a film written by and starring a fourteen-year old girl; C.R.A.Z.Y. – the story of a gay youth who escapes into flights of fantasy; The quiet – a tale of an orphaned girl whose deafness leads others to tell her their darkest secrets, and Man of the Year – in which a Jon Stewart-type comedian/faux news reporter becomes President of the United States…
The maxim "write what you know" is the reason that Purgatory House exists. Celeste Davis the film's star and writer – who was thirteen when she began writing the screenplay – has literally taken issues from her life experience [detailed in the DVD's features] and used them as the source for this tale of Silver Strand, who commits suicide and finds herself in Purgatory House – a place where her life continues on exactly as it was before she killed herself. All the pain, all the frustration, and all the dope – only, she's told, it's forever!
Purgatory House is an awfully strange film – and a very ambitious one. Part of Silver's life in Purgatory House is being forced to watch her friends and family on Earth as they go on with their lives without her. It's almost like going to school – she even gets a break for lunch that her supervisor, St. James [Jim Hanks] refers to as a "torture break." Worse, there's homework! Silver has to writer an essay on what she's seen! Of course, in this halfway house situated between heaven and hell, there are other kids of about silver's age – kids who have died though suicide, accidental drug overdose, or pure stupidity [one climbed a mountain while drinking and fell to his death…].
Another intriguing thing about Purgatory House is that it features over 200 CG shots – some kinda cool, and others kinda cheesy – all for specific, deliberate effect – as in the "Who Wants To Go To Heaven?" game show sequence [in which Hanks plays a female God in brightly colored wigs]. Because the film was shot in digital video, it was easier to do green and blue scree work, but the CG is pretty accomplished for such a low budget.
Davis turns in a better than you might expect performance as Silver. It may be her first acting gig, but it's clear that the material comes from her heart and she does bring a certain combination of badass attitude and vulnerability to the character. Hanks plays St. James as an offhanded, casual guy who's just there because someone has to be – but the character also has an affection for his charges, and a desire for them to find a way to move past Purgatory House, that Hanks keeps simmering just below the surface.
Producer/Director Cindy Baer became involved with Davis through Big Sisters and Davis' screenplay prompted her to take on her first directorial job. As surprisingly appropriate as Davis is, as Silver, so Baer's direction is appropriate for this film. Because she helped Davis through the times that spawned the screenplay – and gave advice and help for it – she has an understanding of both Davis and the material and is, thus, able to get the most out of both.
Davis is the youngest person to have a screenplay produced, but that's not what makes Purgatory House so memorable. In a world of increasing disconnection, Purgatory House gives that disconnection a palpable reality. It is as raw and challenging as adolescence itself.
Features including: The Making of Purgatory House; Putting It All Together – a featurette that looks at the post-production process in depth; Claire's Prayer – music video by Larisa Stow; footage from the L.A. premiere; deleted scenes; trailers; Silver's Note, and Free Me – a 1-800 hotline for teen problems related to drugs, alcohol, eating disorders or suicide.
Purgatory House – Grade: B+
Features – Grade: B
Final Grade: B
C.R.A.Z.Y. won the Genie [the Canadian Oscar