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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Purgatory House (review)

If you’ve forgotten what it was like to be a teenager, here’s a way to slam yourself back into that miserably, lonely, awkward time: Visit Purgatory House, new on DVD on January 16. Written, astonishingly, by then 14-year-old Celeste Davis, this is the heartrending semiautobiographical story of a teen desperate to escape her pain who ends up in a place even worse, halfway between heaven and hell in the fantastical Purgatory House, a supernatural shelter for kids on the edge. Shot in the summer of 2001 on miniDV cameras with FX produced on home computers, this is a breakthrough for digital filmmaking, a stunningly innovative example that pushes the boundaries of what inexpensive new technology can create and allowing director Cindy Baer brings a just-right touch of dark whimsy to Davis’s inspired invention of a realm of the afterlife dedicated to the eternally wretched. But it’s Davis herself that is the most extraordinary aspect of the film. Starring as Silver Strand, the latest kid to find herself crashing forever at Purgatory House, she is a phenomenally gifted and self-assured screenwriter and screen performer who is able to articulate the precise shadings of adolescent anger and despair that we all strive hard to forget as soon as we can… which tends to dull the edges of stories about teens told through the haze of adult perspectives. The searing, unblunted immediacy of Davis’s experience — and the startling maturity of her satircal wit — makes this one of the most honest, most powerful, most revealing teen movies ever. Kids may dismiss the truth of it as self-evident, even if the way in which that truth is told is highly rewarding in itself, but those of us who’ve left adolescence behind, and good riddance to it, will be smacked out of our smug adulthood and back in time to the worst moments of our lives. [buy at Amazon]

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MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

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