Unearthed Films: The Sins of the Father: Purgatory Road (2017) - Reviewed

Purgatory Road (2017) works on two levels: on the surface it's a slasher (with gore aplenty) and if one looks deeper it's a scathing critique of organized religion with a heaping dose of pitch black humor. The film revolves around two brothers: Vincent (Gary Cairns) and Michael (Luke Albright) who run a "church on wheels" where they drive around an RV with a confession booth inside where people can confess their sins on the road. After a traumatic event in his childhood, Vincent has become a priest but his loathing for a particular brand of sin (in this case stealing) has led him to become a psychopathic killer. Whenever someone confesses about being a thief he brutally murders them and chops up their body parts. 

The vehicle they travel around in, covered with bible verses that look like graffiti, conveys the idea that Father Vincent has created his own perverted idea of what a church represents, and he feels that if he murders the unrepentant he is absolving them of their sins and allowing them a chance to ascend to heaven.  This notion stems from him witnessing a robbery as a child--a thief broke into his home and stole his father's life savings. He was stricken by fear and was unable to prevent the theft. His father was so grief stricken at the loss of the money that he shot himself. The idea that grief about past events can shape the trajectory of a person's life is deeply embedded into the subtext of Purgatory Road. There is a desperation that comes with the inability to change the past or obtain closure.

Atmosphere plays a huge role in the film with the shot composition, lighting, and music being the biggest standouts. The confessional booth is flooded with garish neon lighting making it feel more like a Las Vegas stripper club than a holy place to confess one's sins. The aesthetic during these parts brings to mind some of Dario Argento's more colorful works and they impart a gleeful lunacy to the murder scenes. There is a sexuality that is palpable during Father Vincent's encounters with the confessors, it's hard not to think he is deriving some fetishistic pleasure from the power of retribution he holds over his victims, and later on this metaphor is made literal when he gets involved with Mary Francis (Trista Robinson) a woman who enjoys killing as much as he does. Conversely, there are some sequences with ethereal and haunting lighting that emphasize the quieter moments that Vincent has to himself (and where he has more time to contemplate his past grievances).

Gary Cains is fantastic as Father Vincent, and his ability to switch between stoic priest mode and unhinged killer is entertaining. While watching the film I was reminded quite a bit of Garth Ennis' iconic comic book series Preacher, which also has the same sort of sardonic and blasphemous disdain for religion, as well as a compelling road trip style narrative. Purgatory Road will certainly appeal to indie horror fans, especially those with strong stomachs as there is some truly gnarly practical gore on display--the few times it dips its toes into more arthouse elements is just the cherry on top.

--Michelle Kisner