Monday, November 9, 2020

Keep It Clean, Girls

The central theme of Hulu's Into the Dark is to take a holiday and turn it into a horror story, which has obviously been an effective trick in the genre for several decades and counting. Perhaps more importantly, Into the Dark has been a great tool for introducing new filmmakers and apparently, holidays themselves.

Father-Daughter Day is a thing? Sure. 

Quick Plot: After her mother passed away, teenage Shay went to live with the father she never knew, who also happened to have a daughter her own age named Jo. Nothing scandalous or anti-Christian about that!

Speaking of, horrible dad has an annual tradition of taking Jo to a purity retreat (barf), where loyal daughters wear wedding dresses and make vows to stay chaste until marriage. Jo treats it like a joke, while Shay, eager to please her new father, tries to put on a good face amid the horrors of antiquated sermons and extreme misogyny. 

Along with their less-than-eager roommates, Jo and Shay playfully complete a midnight ritual to summon Lilith, the mythical first wife (and first feminist) of Adam who usually gets cut from most Sunday school lectures. Shay begins to see an ominous female figure lurking about the campgrounds, all as she struggles to find a place between the dubious Jo, sanctimonious father, even worse armed preacher (Jason Street himself, Scott Porter), and a handsome local who makes for a nice summer romance.

Written and directed by Hannah Macpherson, Pure is, like most of the Into the Dark entries, extremely sleek and watchable, even if its 90 minute time limit leaves us without the climax we might have otherwise gotten in a bigger film. The horror comes from deep within the setup, not necessarily the supernatural elements. I probably would have preferred Pure to never even mention vengeance demons or black-eyed visages and to focus instead on the monstrosity of conservative men in power.

Macpherson, a newcomer, clearly understands that men historically regulating womens' bodies (be they their wives or daughters) is true terror in itself. The sheer creepiness of men believing their daughters' sexual decisions belong to them is horrifying, and Macpherson wisely doesn't overplay this. One father is clearly unhealhtily (even by crazy Christian metrics) obsessed with his daughter's weight, while Shay and Jo's dad has seemingly never confronted the hypocritical nature of his own affair. We don't need extreme music or camera shading to let us know who the real villains in this story are. 

In fact, one of Pure's best assets is its intense sunniness. I almost wish Macpherson went the Midsommar route of keeping all the horror in pure shimmering daylight, but there's a certain inevitable conclusion that feels required in its bloody, quick CGI execution. 

High Points
The level of restraint at work in Pure is really something special, especially when you consider this being Macpherson's first full-length film. It would have been so easy to go the Jesus Camp route of overlaying added film tricks to make the men of Pure seem truly despicable, but instead, we see them through Shay's eyes: wrong-headed and entitled, but still clean-cut and seemingly trusting in what they believe. 

Low Points
I suppose it ultimately makes sense when you consider the nature of Pure's real antagonists, but the actual horror elements are probably the least interesting things onscreen

Lessons Learned
People who live in hell are called demons

Father-daughter day is a thing, and a fairly terrible one at that

No preacher is more trustworthy than the one who wears a gun at all times

While it doesn't reach the stunning quality of Culture Shock or the sheer fun of Pilgrim, I still found Pure to be a worthwhile Into the Dark installment. It has a genuinely fresh voice that, hey, as a female horror fan, I deeply appreciate. I probably won't have a reason to think too hard about it any time in the future, but I will certainly be looking out for more work from Hannah Macpherson. 

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