Release Date(s)2017 (February 12, 2019)
Studio(s)Delirium/Purgo Road/Indie Rights (Unearthed Films)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A
Combining splatter movie gore with a tale of driving obsession, Purgatory Road begins with a scene of young Vincent witnessing the theft of his father’s life savings. Frozen with fear by the intruder, the child says and does nothing. When his father discovers the money is gone, he commits suicide. This incident shapes Vincent’s destiny.
Years later, rogue priest Father Vincent (Gary Cairns) travels through the South in a mobile church/confessional, accompanied by his brother Michael (Luke Albright). They set up a tent in rural communities, where Vincent delivers fire-and-brimstone sermons and his brother collects donations. Father Vincent hears confessions and to those who confess to stealing, Father Vincent immediately dispenses his own justice – he savagely stabs them to death. Then he and Michael dismember and dispose of the bodies.
Mary Francis (Trista Robinson) happens to cross paths with the brothers. She also happens to be a psychotic killer. Having learned that they saved a lot of money from donations, she figures that the best way to steal it is to insinuate herself into their gruesome operation. Her presence changes the dynamic of the brothers. Michael has become attracted to waitress Ruby (Sylvia Grace Crim) and wants to go off with her and leave behind the sordid mayhem of his brother, whom he’s been enabling his whole life.
Purgatory Road features a sociopath with a twist: Father Vincent hides behind redemption and forgiveness to ferret out thieves. He dispenses penance for lesser sins, but confessions of theft cause him to strike out with Pavlovian predictability. We might be able to accept that a traumatic childhood incident has damaged his mind. But why does Michael help mop up his murders for so long? Michael seems to have no life of his own until he meets Ruby, who represents innocence and normalcy. We’re supposed to root for Michael as he decides to start a clean life, yet he has been complicit.
Director Mark Savage features several graphic murders in Father Vincent’s confessional. The first is genuinely shocking, but the subsequent murders follow the same pattern, diluting their effectiveness.
Purgatory Road is the kind of horror movie that is effective because the events portrayed are possible. Like Psycho or The Silence of the Lambs, its central character is a sociopath, not a scaly creature, a giant gorilla, or an outer space alien. People like this can and do exist.
Cairns plays Father Vincent as mild-mannered – the kind of person whose collar inspires faith and trust. He has an informal way with those he hears in confession that encourages them to open up and bare their sins. The only time he shows anger – fury, in fact – is when he learns their sin is theft. This triggers memories of his father’s violent death and he lashes out. The whole point of his traveling ministry is to replace his father’s stolen money. If murder is part of it, so be it.
Ms. Robinson nearly steals the picture as the deranged young woman who is attracted to the brothers’ grim undertaking. Her Mary Francis is a gun-toting, vile sociopath herself and realizes she will fit in perfectly with the brothers’ ministry of murder. Without a conscience and using her sex as a weapon, she is quite a formidable sidekick in crime.
The Blu-ray release contains 1080p resolution and English 5.1 Dolby Digital audio. Aspect ratio is 1.85:1. Optional English subtitles are available. The color palette for outdoor scenes has a washed out, desaturated look, with few bold colors except for Mary Francis’ red leather coat. No scenes take place in bright sunlight. It’s as if a permanent cloud hovers over the proceedings. Browns and other earth tones dominate. Indoor scenes are filled with deep shadows, with light emanating from a single lamp, a doorway, or curtailed window. Scenes in a basement have nice touches of light streaming from upstairs windows, providing a greenish hue. Nighttime outdoor scenes have a bluish quality. Volume is amped up during Father Vincent’s murders but is otherwise fairly quiet. This is a horror film that relies more on creepy atmosphere than blood-curdling shrieks.
Bonus materials on the Blu-ray release include feature-length commentary, a special effects montage, two featurettes, and a Q&A session.
Commentary – Director Mark Savage and writer/executive producer Tom Parnell note that the film’s prelude depicts a pivotal event in Father Vincent’s life. Michael is the rock for Vincent and his perversions. The house used in the movie was not the original location choice. That house was an hour and a half out of town, which would have wasted valuable time, and its grounds were waterlogged by recent heavy rains. A parking lot was recreated in the studio, also because of swampy conditions at the location. This enabled better control of lighting. The dynamic of the brothers’ relationship is analyzed and Mary Francis’ motivation for wanting to join up with the brothers is discussed. Savage and Parnell describe how a key special effects scene was accomplished. The 98-minute film contains 94 minutes of composer Glen Gabriel’s music.
The Grisly Art of Marcus Koch & Cat Bernier Sowell montage – Still color photos are shown, slideshow style, of the gruesome, bloody special effects featured in the movie. Music accompanies the slideshow. There is no narration.
The Actors Speak featurette – Gary Cairns, Luke Albright, and Trista Robinson discuss how they became involved in the project. Both Cairns and Albright had known director Mark Savage and worked with him on previous projects. Albright liked the complex bond between the brothers and notes, “My character was completely there for Vincent.” Cairns, depressed in his personal life, used that depression in his portrayal of the troubled Father Vincent. Robinson refers to her role as “larger than life.” She watched several documentaries about women murderers prior to filming. She refers to the role of Mary Francis as a gift.
Tom Parnell: Beyond the Day Job featurette – Executive producer/writer Parnell worked as an actor in a Mark Savage film and enjoyed the experience. He and Savage collaborated on the script for Purgatory Road. Savage wrote a treatment and Parnell added dialogue. Initially put off by the idea of writing and re-writing, he eventually found the process pleasurable. He loved getting into character as the state trooper he plays in the film.
Purgatory Road Q & A – Director Mark Savage and actor Gary Cairns discuss the genesis of the film and its theme of the consequences of childhood trauma. An off-camera moderator poses a few questions. The casting process is described in detail, with Cairns adding how he came to star as Father Vincent. Originally scheduled to film in California, the movie was eventually shot in Mississippi for greater ease in moving from location to location, favorable tax incentives, and a more realistic setting. Cast and crew members join Savage and Cairns, introduce themselves, and explain their role either in front of or behind the camera. Audience members ask additional questions.
– Dennis Seuling