(Blumhouse Television and Hulu have partnered for a monthly horror anthology series titled Into The Dark, set to release a full holiday-themed feature the first Friday of every month. Horror anthology expert Matt Donato will be tackling the series one-by-one, stacking up the entries as they become streamable.)
Into The Dark’s inaugural season concludes with a whimper in Hannah Macpherson’s Pure. August stole September’s “Back To School” relevance, which leaves Macpherson with a claws-out gender battle rooted in religious servitude. The issue is, Macpherson reveals her film’s hand and chucks the same cards our way until credits roll. What feels like a short film idea is elongated into a ninety-minute streaming feature, and we’re right back experiencing the same elongation issues Into The Dark hasn’t been able to overcome since “episode” numero uno. Not a promising end-note with Season 2 on the horizon.
Jahkara Smith stars as Shay, a newly saved stepsister attending some holy backwoods father-daughter retreat in the name of purity. Alongside her sibling Jo (McKaley Miller), father Kyle (Jim Klock) prepares Shay to make the ultimate pledge under Pastor Seth’s (Scott Porter) guidance. Profess yourself to God, ignore temptation, live a life of chastity until marriage. Women’s puny brains can’t function without a man’s help, which is the purpose of Pastor Seth’s teachings. Thus he retells the story of Adam’s not-mentioned original “whore” mate, Lilith (Tara Parker), who was cast into Hell for her lustful desires. A lesson meant to scare Shay and others from intercourse, until Jo convinces her friends to summon Lilith’s revenge.
Welcome to another cult-like profession of virginity in the name of faith exploited. An isolated retreat in nature where Pastor Seth compares women who’ve kissed out of wedlock to chewed gum, or notes how boys needn’t shepherding because they’re not as easily manipulated. The message of Pure is simple: men will always try to tame their women into fearful docility in an attempt to keep them vulnerable, and that ain’t cool. Like a game of thematic Whack-A-Mole, hitting each obvious note clear on the noggin as it surfaces. For the most part, unenthusiastically, you’ve seen this before.
What you *haven’t* seen – Lilith’s campaign to destroy all men – is horror without excitement. Tara Parker can be seen standing in the background, beaming that now-signature Truth Or Dare Joker’s grin as her only signifier of terror. Blumhouse is going to milk their favorite SnapChat filter for all it’s worth, eh? Not much enthusiasm via horror, especially when some Coachella-lite indie rock scores the film’s “forbidden” teenage romance. Can Shay prevent herself from smooching local heartthrobs? Will Jo’s rebellion get her in trouble? All very generic questions answered by the books, Lilith’s presence barely worth a raised hair.
That’s not to say Pure isn’t rightfully angry or poignant. Ciara Bravo’s arc as Pastor Seth’s daughter engages the lasting effects of oppression in a young girl’s guilty mind. Annalisa Cochrane fights back against her father’s attempts to cage her independence and spirit, meant to be reclaimed. Female characters call out patriarchal bullshit, prove that time is indeed up, and exude power when joining forces under Lilith’s instigation. In a man’s world, women only have each other. Macpherson’s war is one waged with conviction.
What’s fumbled is a very “Young Adult” horror tone that never quite taps into visceral fear. As already noted, Lilith isn’t an imposing demon. Her attacks range from haunting microphone amplifiers with high pitches and floating ominously in the background. Macpherson’s finale choreographs a bloody “boys vs. girls” retaliation via ritual, but even that’s employed with minimal tension (noting Lucy’s arc). Blackened eyes and vomited goop provide the only other accents to an otherwise sleepy campfire incantation, even then lacking any impact besides a thrown in digital/liquid effect. Skinny dips, seances, and sneaky walks with sweeties are a repetitive norm.
Pure oversells Catholic belief systems complete with purity rings and overtly sexual fatherly interactions, then underplays Lilith’s firey-haired dealings of comeuppance. Women are unstoppable when joining together, able to defeat those cowardly males who’d rather gaslight them into lives as brainwashed homemakers. A powerful reassurance told through an exhaustingly dull and unsuccessfully teeny-bopper lens. I hope the intended demographics find action and urgency in this otherwise basic supernatural thriller, because there’s not much else about Macpherson’s manipulative “Papa Sure Do Preach” gospel to otherwise write home about.
/Film Rating: 5 out of 10
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