‘Purgatory Jack’ Salem Horror Fest 2024 Review: An Overambitious Look At The Afterlife

Purgatory Jack

Editor’s note: This review contains mentions of suicide.

The simultaneous fear and insatiable curiosity about what happens after death fuels art to this day. There are innumerable interpretations of Heaven and Hell. But the secret third option of Purgatory rarely receives the same kind of dedicated love, apart from the poet Virgil, No Exit, and The House that Jack Built. The Butler Brother’s Purgatory Jack reinterprets the perpetual waiting room of the afterlife as a post-apocalyptic hellscape for those who died by suicide. While Purgatory Jack’s central mystery is well-executed and its depiction of Purgatory remains novel, its story is somehow both meandering and underbaked. Plus, how it handles the central topic of suicide leaves a lot to be desired.

Despite the title’s implications, Purgatory Jack largely centers on underground punk artist Viv Vacious (Alexandra Beaton) who finds herself in Purgatory post-overdose. Unlike most residents of Purgatory, Viv still has blood in her veins which makes her a target for the gangs of black market limb collectors lurking around every corner. The titular man (Tim Rozon) makes it his mission to take Viv under his wing. Jack decides to help Viv find her mother, who died by suicide 20 years prior before her 24-hour free trial runs out.

The Look and Feel Of The Film

Aesthetically, Purgatory Jack couldn’t have been released at a better time. Between Fallout and Furiosa, the post-apocalyptic desert hellscape certainly is having a moment right now. The production design of Purgatory, done by Allie Thompson, delivers the perfect feeling of being removed from time while simultaneously in a perpetual state of decay. Different elements of Purgatory are also customized to fit the time of death for characters as well which emphasizes the weird liminality of the afterlife’s waiting room. The choice to film Jack driving using the old rear projection technique is particularly inspired.

Thompson’s costuming and makeup, done by Angelica Avendaño and Shantelle Cazanese, emphasizes the rough “living” of Purgatory and clearly establishes the various factions roaming around this liminal zone. Although the gore and guts are quite minimal, what is shown is especially well done. Combined with the eclectic score and soundtrack, this interpretation of the space between salvation and damnation is fleshed out and cohesive. 

While the look of Purgatory and its residents are certainly novel, the characterization and story of Purgatory Jack leaves a lot to be desired. The film juggles several genres and intertwining storylines, which is certainly ambitious, but it leaves the narrative bloated and the characterization barren. Val, despite being 27, comes off like an edgy teenager for the bulk of the film. While her constant suspicion and anger are certainly warranted, it largely comes off as manufactured faux-edge. Most of Purgatory’s other residents also suffer from this one-note characterization–largely shown as piggish, vapid, and self-serving. Only Jack and Flo (Emily Alatalo) receive a modicum of nuance in their character development, and both Rozon and Alatalo perform it well. Unfortunately, said development is relegated to the final third of the film and, thus, feels a bit rushed.

How Does Purgatory Jack Handle Suicide?

The issue with characterization ties into the much larger problem with Purgatory Jack: centering Purgatory on those who died by suicide. Obviously, this is a super different take on the concept of Purgatory—the Christian tradition tends to send people who die by suicide to Hell. But Purgatory Jack doesn’t really treat suicide as a value-neutral death. Beyond the fact that some later twists screw with the original premise, there’s a lingering air of judgment over Purgatory.

While the exaggerated characterization of the various factions—divided into methods of death—is certainly eye-catching and perhaps good for a visual gag, there’s literally no sympathy given to a single character both on-screen and in the script. The flat characterization that would simply be annoying otherwise actively turns mean-spirited. There’s no interrogation into factors that led to anyone winding up in Purgatory except for Val, Jack, and Flo. Jack himself repeatedly calls suicide a selfish act or the coward’s way out while Val flips between romanticizing it and berating her mother for dying by it. There’s no room for nuance, and at points, the film seems to just be treating Purgatory like Hell-lite.

Purgatory Jack is definitely an ambitious project. The Butler Brothers sought to reimagine Purgatory beyond a waiting room and created a limbo all their own. While the practical elements, especially the production design and music, are nothing short of impressive, the characters and story sink the film’s premise. What could’ve been a novel take on Purgatory becomes a meandering pseudo-mystery with unlikable characters and some very iffy handling of suicide as both a concept and narrative device. 



While Purgatory Jack’s central mystery is well-executed and its depiction of Purgatory remains novel, its story is somehow both meandering and underbaked.



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