Studio: Ruthless Films
Director: Emmanuel Sandoval
Writer: Emmanuel Sandoval, Robert A. Trezza, Zaid Obagi
Producer: Emmanuel Sandoval, Robert A. Trezza, Zaid Obagi, Yasmin Fernandes
Stars: Steve Jacques, Carolyn O’Brien, Alana Chester, Tomas Decurgez, David Mendoza
Found footage and assorted interviews document the mystery surrounding the death and disappearance of the Diaz Family.
“The Purging Hour” is too vague about its mythology and too dull as a movie to come anywhere close to earning a recommendation. That’s unfortunate for its fledgling filmmakers. Because tucked deep beneath the microbudget exterior of a production whose aspirations outweigh cast and crew experience, there is a core concept that, treated with more thought, could have kept the film off the horror heap of “found footage” fated to be forgotten.
The story in “The Purging Hour” is nothing novel. Bruce Diaz brought his wife Jennifer, young son Manny, teen daughter Kacie, and Kacie’s boyfriend Mark to a remote woodland home. On their first night in the house, everyone inexplicably disappeared. No one had any idea what happened until home video footage mysteriously surfaced and the family’s fate took on new life as a disputed local legend.
That premise may not have much promise, but the presentation initially does. “The Purging Hour” formats itself similar to “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” or “Lake Mungo” as a sort of news magazine exposé incorporating the Diaz Family’s personal recordings into after-the-fact interviews featuring friends, experts, and others adding a bit of backstory meat onto the plot’s bare bones.
This approach is atypical enough to put the film in a leg up position over plentiful peers in the first-person fright subgenre. Except the faux documentary frame falls far short of putting on a patina of professionalism. No one would ever mistake “The Purging Hour” for looking like a legitimate piece of nonfiction.
For starters, this weirdo town that is a hotbed of urban folklore and paranormal rumors is not mentioned by name. It’s apparently some sort of mountain resort town, though that resort is also not specified. Interviewees are identified only by first names. “Sherif” (sic) isn’t even spelled correctly on one participant’s title.
Imagine how your face would scrunch if a “Dateline NBC” segment never revealed the when or the where of an unsolved mystery or included typos in onscreen text. Low-budget moviemakers sometimes offer as excuses, “we ran out of time that day” or “we didn’t have the money.” In this case, we’re talking about details fixed by proofreading or replacing “the town” with an actual name in the script. Whateverville. Howaboutthisburg. What’s the issue with simply indicating the location?
Acting is hit or miss, mostly miss, though there are some standout moments of convincing performances. Maybe director Emmanuel Sandoval is only padding the runtime. Maybe he is throwing bones to as many people as possible. Yet one checkmark in the “Pro” column is that the film features two-dozen faces, giving some depth to limited production value when similar horror-thrillers can count cast members on one hand.
Steve Jacques in particular pulls off a believable father figure as Bruce. His vocal tone is fittingly “dad-like” in terms of how this man relates differently to each family member.
But the hiccups in Jacques’ portrayal point to the film’s larger failure in solid starting points being underdone by an improvisational approach to hoping unplanned parts of the production simply pan out. For instance, it’s evident that Jacques either goes off script or is left to his own dialogue devices given how frequently he falls back on the phrase “c’mon” to encourage participation while unpacking or “I’m just messing with you” when talking to his daughter’s boyfriend.
This is evidence of how “The Purging Hour” rarely starts behind an insurmountable eight ball, yet willingly falls in a hole by not having the foresight or follow-through to set various elements up for success. It appears the wrong lessons were learned from “The Blair Witch Project,” imparting the notion that any incomplete idea, whether it be an actor’s lines or plot specifics, would round out in the moment once on set or in the editing room. That’s not what happens.
A strategy of serendipity is harder to overlook when technical execution isn’t even up to snuff. Interview audio is muffled by a person’s hair or by a microphone clipped too far down on clothing. One talking heads segment is cut to appear as though a husband and wife are on opposite sides of the same couch, yet the audio level and lighting is different for each of them.
The final unforgivable fault is that “The Purging Hour” doesn’t shake out as engaging. An initial sniff of intrigue comes from not defining the nature of the Diaz Family’s fate upfront. Were they murdered? Did someone go crazy? How does the tale of a ghostly woman in the woods factor in? Then the movie forces a lot of fluff by way of slow scenes where the table is set for dinner, dad complains about the unpacking progress, or something else uneventful occurs that is equally uninterested in moving momentum or being entertaining.
“The Purging Hour” had a head start by being not entirely run-of-the-mill in how it framed its concept. Then the filmmakers sandbagged themselves by going full speed ahead without first finishing the map, and settling on amateur aesthetics to get them there. There is enough integrity in their intent to suggest that they personally don’t deserve to be written off. However, this particular movie definitely does.
Review Score: 35