Updated: Sep 20, 2019
Shay and her newly-discovered father Steve and sister Jo are attending a Purity Retreat, a Christian gathering where the teenaged girls sign purity contracts and effectively sort of wed their fathers in a pact to keep themselves pure before marriage. Jo turns out to be a bit of a rebel and sneaks out with some of the other girls to an abandoned cabin. There, they do one of those fun occult rituals that all teenagers seem to do in movies like this, and they attempt to summon Lilith, the Original Woman and demon from Hell. What they don’t know is that Shay has already been having visions of Lilith before the retreat and, now that this ceremony has been completed, an evil spirit seems to be unleashed upon the camp. But who is evil and who isn’t is a complicated question, and as events escalate, we learn the real truth behind what’s going on at the Purity Retreat, and who the real monster is.
With Pure, writer-director Hannah Macpherson has delivered a powerhouse of a film, one that explores this weird strain of Christianity, the idea of purity before marriage, the control of women’s bodies and minds and spirits by men, and the concept of freewill. She wraps it all up in a very scary and intense package that delivers all the shocks and suspense you could want. You’re never quite sure where things are headed. Is Lilith really summoned or is this all just a wild imagining by a scared teen? Do these creepy fathers mean well or is this some bizarre way to manipulate and control their daughters? Will Shay have a breakdown? Will Jo keep being defiant? What’s going on with the Pastor’s daughter? All of this culminates in an explosive finale, one that is sure to make some stand and applaud and others run to their chat groups and vent about PC-culture and Incel-fap themselves blind.
This is real-life horror told through the lens of the supernatural, and it is done with style, wit, and grace. These Purity Retreats actually do exist, and by putting this conflict in a real-world setting, Macpherson boldly confronts one of the central conflicts of American society going back several decades (well, centuries). This is the struggle of bodily-autonomy for women. Only it’s not just a physical thing, but one of the mind and the soul, as well. By introducing Lilith into the equation, the struggle is illuminated on many levels of existence, not just the physical. For those unfamiliar, Lilith was the supposed first wife of Adam, created by God as an equal. Lilith supposedly got nasty with an angel and Adam snitched on her to God, who banished her to Hell. God then created Eve from Adam’s rib, thus making sure that Adam always had a subservient mate created from his own physical being and not an equal. Lilith here is a vital symbol of female liberations, independence, and power. And boy, does Macpherson embrace her and all she represents.
Pure is a powerhouse of a horror film. It does not shrink, it does not blink. It rams headfirst into the issues of our time and stares them down with bold courage. This is a movie about the control of women and who has it. Are women servants of men and God or are they free to do as they will? Once the awesome might of Lilith is unleashed, will men stand or fall? Will women truly be free or will they be beat down once again by the Patriarchy? Because make no mistake, this is a very political film, one that does not shirk its responsibility in confronting these issues.
If you want simple chills and thrills, you’ll get them here. Pure has plenty of jump-scares and plenty of supernatural tension. But you’re also going to get a message, and a heart and soul that you might not have been expecting. This is great stuff, and one of the best films of the year.
The only monsters here are the men.
Four Buckets of Blood out of Four
Pure is part of the Into the Dark series available on Hulu
Kelly is the author of dozens of stories and dozens of reviews, he likes to write, he likes to read, he likes going to the movies, and he loves to laugh. He hails from the wilds of Kentucky and if you'd like to see more of his work, check out his website: www.kellymhudson.com