Written and Directed by: James Cullen Bressack
Starring: Alexei Ryan, Cory Jacob and Lisa Frantz
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
My Pure Joy has the unfortunate distinction of introducing you to some of the most reprehensible, unpleasant characters in recent memory. Seriously, the family of four presented in the opening minutes have a vulgar dinner table conversation that would make the Myers clan from Rob Zombieís Halloween blush. Among them is the angry son (because all teenagers are irate, disrespectful assholes in the world of this movie), who engages in profanity-laced tirades against his parents, who just yell back. Itís beyond irritating, and it feels like youíre trapped in the middle of the worst Jerry Springer episode ever; fortunately, they arenít around for long, as they get butchered by a masked serial killer within the first fifteen minutes (it should have been the first five).
The bad news, however, is that the film then forces you to spend the next 80 minutes with even more grating characters. The lead is Adam (Alexei Ryan), who is actually the guy who kills the family off in the opening scene. Heíd be a true hero for doing that if he didnít prove to be just as annoying. Though heís a serial killer by night, he spends his day as an average (read: pissed-off) high school student who hangs out with his friends; obsessed with horror movies thanks to his late father, heís begun to channel his anger into his work of hacking up people and writing about it in his diary.
Well, sort of; we actually only see him kill 2 more people until the climactic showdown; in the meantime, he and his two buddies just kind of sit around and talk about stuff like their preference regarding a girlís pubic hair and horror movies. Long, long stretches of the movie are just these guys having discussions, which would be okay if the writing were remotely interesting or if anyone involved was an actual actor. Obviously, Iím not going to begrudge an indie movie like this its bad acting--thatís to be expected. However, itís especially woeful here, particularly when you consider that community theater talent isnít going to carry a dialogue-heavy movie. While a lot of the film is meant to be humorous (in a crass, juvenile way), itís kind of funny even when it isnít supposed to be, such as when Adam finally snaps during the climactic scene and goes on a long diatribe.
I suppose writer/director Bressack deserves credit for putting together a movie; he certainly did that, and the story is mostly coherent, with the action always at least being visible. As heís only nineteen years old, heís certainly has a lot to learn and probably knows more than I do about the nuts and bolts; however, I can say this with great certainty: he needs an editor with him every step of the way, starting with the script, which could use a few polishes. So many conversations drag on and on and even repeat lines and swiftly cause you to lose interest. And this is not to mention the numerous one-off clunkers littered throughout (ďIf you keep talking, your jugular will not be safe!Ē). Itís fine to commit all of this stuff to film, but the biggest problem is that so much of it remains, as if he were afraid of the cutting room floor; all told, the story here only requires about 80 minutes at the most, so at least 20 minutes could have been shaved. Even then, though, I donít think this would exactly be a riveting tale of a disturbed emo kid who decides to kill people and write freshman year style diary entries that sometimes resemble an Ultimate Warrior rant. Maybe Iím just getting too old for this stuff, as I can see this (unfortunately) speaking to some troubled teenagers.
Also indisputable is Bressackís love for horror movies. In fact, it seems like you can here him screaming ďlook at how many horror movies Iíve seen!Ē in every other scene. DVDs are littered on Adamís floor (a nice collection, by the way), and he and his friendsí vocabulary seems to be defined by these movies. So much of it seems forced or unnatural, such as the scene where one of the guys discusses Psycho using language that feels recited from a textbook. Also, despite the fact that these characters watch Night of the Living Dead and name-drop Universal classics, it seems like Bressack dwells on ultra violent, gory schlock, which has clearly informed My Pure Joy. Though it only contains three scenes of violence, theyíre all rather disturbing and grim, as even a small child isnít spared Adamís wrath at one point. Perhaps the most telling unsettling scene involves the very graphic penetration of a girlís vagina with a knife, which I think speaks to just what level this movie is operating on.
So, if youíre all pent up with teenage angst, I think My Pure Joy will somehow appeal to you. It was a less than joyful experience for me, though I must admit the clever twist at the end shows some smarts. This feels like such an angry film thatís lashing out all over the place; itís odd that one of the targets seems to be that sector of society who blames media violence for real-life cruelty, but I donít think it does much to disprove them considering thatís exactly what happens in the movie. Given Bressackís age, it hardly comes as a surprise that this is pretty sloppy and is fuelled by the rampant desire to homage the movies that inspired him to make it in the first place. That might be a fine idea for a short, but when stretched out to feature length, My Pure Joy is kind of a drag that only reminds you of all those better films. Still, his enthusiasm is nice to see; hopefully next time, itíll help him to transcend his limited resources. Rent it!
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