The first film of James Cullen Bressack, My Pure Joy has been praised and condemned, put on a pedestal and flushed down the pooper. It’s been called innovative, it’s been called crap…sounds like a lot of other horror films, doesn’t it? Personally, I think when you’re talking micro-budget (in this case, about $7000) indie horror, you have to view the films with a different eye; taking into account that it was the freshman effort (both writing and directing) of an eighteen-year-old filmmaker, that eye has to be even more forgiving of certain shortcomings and look at the effort as a whole, noting both passion and potential.
The plot is simple: a troubled teen, with a history of emotional trauma and an obsession with gory horror films has some dark fantasies he’s begun acting on. We’re taken along as he indulges in these violent tendencies from the very beginning (and I gotta tell ya, no one is safe). We’re privy to these dark thoughts as well, via his journal entries. We also watch him spending time with friends, smokin’ a little weed, talking horror films, going to a party, etc. It’s here that he seems for all the world like a normal teen; sometimes painfully so. However, we see portents of something dark and ugly lurking beneath the surface throughout the film, something that builds to critical mass both internally and externally as he faces both his familial woes and the fear of discovery.
The writing isn’t Academy Award level material; however, when you look at it from the perspective of a young, first-time writer, especially creating a cathartic piece dealing with his own personal trauma (Bressack’s own admission), it’s effective. If you really listen, considering those parameters, it’s actually kinda spooky (James, if you’re reading this, I hope you got it all out of your system =)). The acting ranged from pretty rough to adequate in most cases, but seriously, if anyone goes into a seven thousand dollar film expecting stellar acting, then shame on them. That said, I was impressed with Alexei Ryan in the lead role. His performance was creepy and chilling at times, made all the more so by how “normal” he seemed hanging with his buddies. He did kick it up a notch to being very near (and admittedly a couple of times, crossing) the “over-the-top” barrier, but within the confines of the character and the situations he was in, I thought it fitting. One climactic scene in particular stands out to me; I could really sympathize with the pain that the character was describing, and for that instant, I felt really sorry for him; quite an accomplishment considering what I’d watched this joker do just a few minutes before. Add the fact that some of his biggest scenes were masked; it takes subtle body language and gestures to carry a character’s motivations when you can’t see their face, and I thought Ryan did a fantastic job in these cases.
As for the meat-and-potatoes (heh-heh) of this kind of film, there’s plenty to see in the bloody gore effects department. From a Hitchcock-inspired shower scene to some impressive arterial spray, you’ll get what you’re looking for in grue. While we’re on the subject, I’ve gotta tell you: I’ve watched a LOT of gory flicks over the years; the works of Fulci, Bava, Hooper, Savini, Argento, Romero…the spate of Italian zombie and cannibal movies of the late ’70s-early ’80s…but My Pure Joy has the honor of being one of the very, very few to ever show a scene that made me physically flinch and go “What the fuck?!? No WAY did that just happen!!” It’s only onscreen for a couple seconds, but don’t worry about not knowing where to look for it; you can’t miss it. Trust me.
This isn’t a movie for everyone. If you’re the type who has to have a Hollywood-level script or acting to even consider a movie worthwhile (and I’m not judging you if you are, just trying to give you what you need to decide whether to watch or not), you won’t get much from this one. If you’re looking for a mindless romp with blood, guts, and popped eyeballs that you really don’t have to think about, I have several other films I can recommend that I think you’d like better. However, if you’re like me (who has a little of all of the above mentioned qualities, depending on my mood), and occasionally like one of those flicks that you have to invest a bit of yourself in, one that you have to look beyond the limitations of budget, feel the passion of the filmmakers and really get what they’re trying to tell you, you owe it to yourself to check out My Pure Joy.
I’m glad that I did.
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