With his impressive 2016 film, Stressed To Kill (starring Armand Assante), Savage took a Falling Down-inspired vigilante story and exploited the shit out of it, creating his most stylistically astute piece of work to date. For PURGATORY ROAD he straddled the momentum of his previous film and rode it confidently across the finish line to create his most, undeniably, accomplished piece yet.
Shot entirely in Mississippi, the film follows two Catholic brothers as they travel from town to town in a makeshift mobile-confessional, absolving people from their sins. Vincent (Gary Cairns) is the priest amongst the two, while Michael (Luke Albright) is his loyal assistant. Traumatised from childhood when they witnessed their father's suicide after he was robbed of money, the brothers work their way across the country killing all who confess to the sin on theft. This brief and, albeit, simplistic synopsis is enough to grab the attention of most self-respecting genre fans, and to reveal any more of the story would be to spoil the fun. Suffice to say it is full of surprises and an abundance of wicked treats.
The first thing to strike me was the quality of the production design. Bright colours mixed with shadows and light, accompanied by a lurking fog, give the film an immediate potency as Savage reassures the audience they they're in capable hands. Unusual camera angles, combined with sturdy and controlled cinematography give the narrative a delicious surrealism, which helps to bring the fanciful story-concept down to a level that makes it entirely credible and engaging.
Despite already having a reputation for crafting obscure and provocative material, Savage has outdone himself with this particular yarn, as he pushes exploitation as close to the mainstream as possible, without stepping in to it. The result is a highly stylised spree-kill film, full of symbolism and social commentary, that serves as a broom-handle poking the hornet's nest of religion (more specifically, Catholicism).
The cast is impressive with Cairns and Albright leading the collective with assurance. Cairns' delivery of an extreme-fundamentalist psychotic priest is chilling, and he syncs his performance with the tone of the story perfectly. Albright offers a sympathetic character who isn't as committed to the cause as his overbearing brother. His soft-natured demeanour and progressive realisation of the unfolding events cleverly counteract what Cairns offers, giving the story a tangible conflict for the audience to embrace. Both actors spar brilliantly and understand the exploitative nature of Savage's work. Trish Robinson plays Mary Francis, a roaming serial killer who nuzzles her way into the brothers' mobile-Church. Her overzealous performance shifts the tone of the film up a few notches, giving it the instability and uncertainty required to keep the audience on edge, as well as providing the proverbial wedge that threatens to divide the brothers.
PURGATORY ROAD is a fantastic, provocative and sacrilegious thrill ride that flips a middle finger at organised religion and relishes every deviant morsel. It as equally scary and tragic as it is hilarious and frivolous, and it signals an exciting new trajectory for Mark Savage. Watch it with a gleeful abandonment before reciting three Hail Mary's.