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Image Entertainment presents
Purgatory House (2004)

"I know I'm pathetic, and I hate myself for it. And if I was someone else, I wouldn't like me either."
- Silver Strand (Celeste Davis)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga   
Published: January 17, 2007

Stars: Celeste Davis
Other Stars: Devin Witt, Johnny Pacar, Rhiannon Main, Jim Hanks
Director: Cindy Baer

MPAA Rating: R for (drug content)
Run Time: 01h:35m:44s
Release Date: January 16, 2007
UPC: 014381352221
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

The differences between old-school independent films and those of the Miramax variety are plentiful, with the two forms having grown more diverse in recent years. The commercialization of independent film can be rather easily attributed to the success of such films at the Oscars, but there are still throngs of unsuccessful though devoted filmmakers who will get their vision to a screening room regardless of the obstacles. One such visionary is 14-year-old writer/actor Celeste Davis, whose pet project, Purgatory House, is a worthwhile experience for anyone who claims to be a fan of indie films in their truest form.

Silver Marie Strand (Davis) has recently committed suicide, and now resides in a strange house with other wayward teens. Strand is able to view the outside world via a video feed, and she sees things that cause her to reflect upon not only her own life but those closest to her as well. Between the video feeds and interaction with her fellow residents of this halfway house, Strand sees her life from an entirely new perspective, but it might be too late to save her soul.

While it's easy to argue that such a young person isn't the best source to ruminate on the complexities of life, it's also just as easy to argue that she's the perfect person for such a subject. Seemingly generating much of the story from her own experiences and feelings about teenage life, Celeste Davis shows just enough polish and discipline to make the screenplay tight, interesting, and most importantly, entertaining, which enables the director to turn in a nice little film. There are some lulls in the story and the symbolism is a bit overdone at times, but if Davis can follow this up with a more complex story, she's going to be a force to reckon with in the years to come.

Using a cast of unknowns, director Cindy Baer gets wonderful efforts from all. Jim Hanks (who has a much more famous older brother) does a great job as God, and there are also nice turns from Devin Witt and Johnny Pacar. Still, the big revelation here is Davis. An actor playing the lead in her own story can seem a bit narcissistic, but it becomes apparent early on that having anyone else play Silver Strand would have been a mistake. Davis performs well beyond her years, exhibiting amazing maturity while keeping in touch with her adolescence. Her work is the perfect balance between passion and passiveness, as she depicts Silver as someone truly in purgatory, forced to reflect on her life and those around her in the most direct way imaginable. The heck with Dakota Fanning; this is as gripping as it gets from a young actress.

This isn't the most balanced or finely-tuned indie feature to come along, but the best thing to come out of it is the massive potential of all involved; much of the cast could very well show up in future projects by the dozens. Still, the proverbial straw that stirs this drink is Baer. I'm sure working creatively with a 14-year-old on a movie project isn't exactly what she is used to, but there are no signs of any disagreements between the two. This is a effort of love in simple, indie film form, which has an extremely important message for not only any and all teenagers, but their parents as well.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Appearing in a non-anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen presentation, the overall transfer was much better than expected. There's still quite a bit of dirt and grain, and some softness, but we also get our fare share of sharp, detailed images as well. Shadow and contrast levels hold up throughout, while the unique color palette is very nicely rendered.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The surprising inclusion of a Dolby Digital 5.1 track takes the surreal audio to a level we don't expect from such low budget material. The surrounds are very active during the more fantastical sequences, taking us along for the ride on one of Silver Strand's mind trips. Davis' dialogue blends in well with the rest of the mix, remaining crisp and clear throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
2 Deleted Scenes
3 Documentaries
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Music Video - "Claire's Prayer" by Larisa Stow
  2. "Silver's Note"
Extras Review: The nice collection of extras begins with The Making of Purgatory House, a 31-minute piece featuring interviews with the young star and writer of the film, Celeste Davis. She goes into great detail about how reflective the film is of her own life, and gives us some nice tidbits about the shoot.

Putting It All Together runs just under 18 minutes and features talks with editor KJ Gruca, director/producer Cindy Baer, and associate producer Matthew Irving. They are shown watching dailies, and give us a look at the grueling task of editing a feature film.

There's also a three-minute music video for Claire's Prayer by Larisa Stow, as well as footage from the LA premiere. A pair of deleted scenes is also available, along with two trailers for the feature, the text-based Silver's Note, and a PSA involving the prevention of common teenage problems.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

A passion project in the truest sense, Purgatory House is a stunning look at teenagers and their struggles. The brain-child of 14-year-old Celeste Davis, this wunderkind not only wrote the screenplay, but also gives a powerful performance as the lead character. Image Entertainment's DVD makes this look and sound better than expected, and a decent extras collection gives us more insight into Ms. Davis' work on the project.


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