12 Aug 2021
Scott Hume, Shaylyn Gibson
If all of our knowledge about life came via the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, we’d think that everyone should look perfect and that everyone’s lives ought to sizzle with drama. But, Hollywood’s airbrushing is a lot more dangerous when it’s relied upon to portray domestic violence. The audience is fed mistruth after mistruth. These are the movies where the beaten woman carefully covers her bruising cheek with concealer and wears gaudy sunglasses, so no one sees her black eye. There are many different kinds of abuse - from physical, emotional, to fiscal - but this stylised version of domestic violence usually involves a Hollywood dame getting slapped once after a heated argument, and then they immediately packing her bags.
Nothing could be quite so far from the truth. Jack Stockley’s Purgatory analyses the realities of domestic abuse with precision. Purgatory challenges these misconceptions with ease: there are many different ways a person can be abused, and it is the most dangerous when the victim decides to leave. Lilith (Shaylyn Gibson) hasn’t been sleeping well recently, and she’s bleeding when she goes to the loo, a symptom she can’t explain. She’s worried that she’s sick, but her fiancée tells her not to be so silly, and it’s just something that would sort itself out on her own. Lilith is trapped in this suffocating relationship, and “just leave” isn’t even a possible thought for her.
In any other situation, maybe Adam’s (Scott Hume) “advice” would be comforting. But there’s a fierce bite in the way he says this. He almost snarls at her at the mere suggestion to see a doctor. He insinuates she doesn’t know her body as well as he does. Of course, he knows what’s best for her. Lilith is in an abusive relationship, and Adam is an abuser. Scott Hume is incredibly well-cast here. One moment he is unnervingly kind, almost too nice. He gives Lilith cups of tea in bed and helps her into her dressing gown. There are a lot of I-love-yous said in this house. But Scott Hume’s characterisation of Adam is fantastically chameleon-like. One moment he is complementing Lilith’s cooking, and the next, he throws it around the room. He is a volatile, terrifying man who leaves the viewer walking on eggshells.
Lilith is cocooned in blue tones, the colour of safety, of home, yet she is never seen to leave. While Adam has the luxury to go to work, Lilith must stay and keep house. The cool blue tones beckon the viewer into a false sense of security, along with Adam’s honeyed words. Like Lilith, we too are confused by his actions which oscillate from charming gentlemen to a volatile abuser.
Purgatory may market itself as an educational film, but it goes beyond the mere boundaries of a public service announcement. At the end of the film, it has slowly turned into a focussed thriller, which feels like a nightmarish Groundhog Day.