When he’s not getting stoned, watching slasher flicks or talking s**t with his friends Chris (Christopher Chandler) and Steve (JD Fairman), Adam (Alexei Ryan) is embarking on his own reign of terror as a serial killer. Starting with a murderous home invasion of a new family in town, Adam eventually turns his violent tendencies towards anyone who gets in his way, whether it be his school crush, her a*****e boyfriend or his own family.
James Cullen Bressack’s feature film, My Pure Joy, both is and isn’t a brutal film. Within the earliest scenes of the film, we see a child get stabbed to death while he hides under the covers, which is followed up by the grotesque murders of the rest of the first victim’s family. It begins to look like just another shock and gore fest to come, until the true story gets underway and the ideas at the core begin to show themselves.
For one, Adam was raised by his now-deceased father on horror and slasher films, and taught that the only way folks remember something is when they’re shocked or afraid. In that way, the film puts itself directly into the conversation about art inspiring violence as it does the debate of Nature vs. Nurture. Was Adam raised or predisposed to violence? Did the films put him over the top?
The trick with the film, that it doesn’t always pull off, is the balance between the violence and the story building. For one, the opening brutality is so harsh that the film seems to think that to balance that we need to see tons of uninteresting conversation between Adam and his friends. Then again, because the violence is so incredibly disturbing and gross, the audience definitely needs a break from it.
I mean, I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who likes their gore unspoiled, but there’s s**t you see in this film that is hard to shake. And as with most indie horror films, the roughness of the image and unpolished nature of it all only adds to the horror. The opening murders set the bar, and the film only gets more brutal as it goes from there.
That being said, the final act of the film isn’t the kindest to the actors, as it requires a level of performance that only the lead, Alexei Ryan, seems up to delivering. Then again, all the work that has gone into the slow decline of his mental state throughout the film is almost ruined by the over-the-top choices made near the end. It’s there that a film, full of subtle references to so many other horror films, dances into parody of not only them, but itself. Again, it messes with that tenuous balance, and undercuts the power of the rest of the film.
Overall, I found My Pure Joy to be an insanely disturbing piece of work, but one that nonetheless has a purpose. I don’t know that “enjoyed” is the word to use, so I’ll say that I appreciated that the film tried to put more into it, via the debate of violent influences and Nature vs. Nurture, than just delivering gore for gore’s sake. Then again, that’s the rub, right? Do whatever f****d up s**t in a film that you want, but toss a philosophical nugget to the audience and they’ll latch on to it, because there has to be something more than just brutality. Right?
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