Found footage is a favorite format for low budget horror filmmakers because it can be shot inexpensively and, when done properly, can provide quite a few chills and scares. It also comes with its share of pitfalls that can greatly reduce the effectiveness of the final film if care is not taken to avoid them. Unfortunately, director Emmanuel Giorgio Sandoval’s The Purging Hour (2015) runs afoul of a few of these issues that can plague found footage films. Combining mockumentary interview segments with found footage elements, it tells the story of a family that moves to a new house in a mountain community and disappears. Interviews with area residents reveal information regarding local legends and other mysterious disappearance in the area, while recovered home video footage shot by the missing family give hints as to the cause of their disappearance. While it starts off promising, with some nice performances by some of the “locals” and with a fairly genuine family-feel to the home movie segments, it does not live up to that promise. Logical inconsistencies, slow pacing, and minimal pay-off in the final reel hamper the success of the film.
Told in a mockumentary format, The Purging Hour recounts the final day of the Diaz family as they move into their new home in a remote mountain community, and promptly vanish. Bruce (Steve Jacques) and Jennifer Diaz (Carolyn O’Brien) are moving to the mountains with their teenage daughter Kacie (Alana Chester) and their tween son Manny (David Mendoza). Also along for the trip is Kacie’s boyfriend Mark (Tomas Decurgez). The family has a home video recorder that each of them pass around to document the move, but little do they know that they are also documenting their doom. The camera catches little oddities throughout the day, but nothing too alarming. As night falls, events start to get more menacing. Interspersed with the family’s footage are interviews with locals, police officials, and family friends who put forth various theories regarding what may have happened to the Diaz family. It is through these interviews that the audience gets background on some of the family members, including hints that some of them may not be as well adjusted as they first appear in the home videos. The interviews also recount tales of other disappearance in the area as well as local legends that may have some bearing on the case. What is the real fate of the Diaz family?
The film has a mockumentary structure, mixing found footage with interviews. At first, this shows promise, since the interviews can help fill in some of the exposition which is sometimes missing from other found footage films, and these interviews are the highlight of The Purging Hour. There is a nice variety of individuals interviewed, from local officials who insist that there is nothing strange going on, to family friends who drop hints as to the mental instability of some of the family members, to locals who related tales and legends from the area. These conflicting theories helps set up the mystery and provide anticipation in regards to what is about to unfold on the home video footage. They help keep the audience guessing as to whether supernatural forces are coming to bear, or if more human players are responsible. The actors portraying the interviewees vary in their abilities, but most of the interviews do have that non-scripted feel that helps them come across as at least somewhat genuine. On the found footage side of things, the filmmakers help maintain visual interest by having various members of the family pick up and use the video recorder. Each family member has a distinct filming and narrative style, concentrating on those events that pique their interest. Unfortunately, what catches the family members’ eyes is not that interesting to the audience. For most of the running time, the found footage element feels very much like watching somebody else’s home movies, with both the good and the bad that implies. The home video seems very genuine, and, for the most part, the family interactions come across as real; it is just the not much of interest goes on.
The Purging Hour has serious pacing issues. At first, the film progresses just fine. One expects the early portions of a film such as this to take its time introducing the characters and highlighting their relationships. There is some nice character development that is revealed both through the interaction of the family members and through the interviews. There are no indications from the video as to potential issues, but several of the interviews give ominous responses that hint at something really bad is in store for the Diaz family. Unfortunately, there is not much progression of the story or the threat beyond that. From the opening segments, one would expect the film to have a slow crescendo of fear, steadily building the atmosphere of menace until it all comes to a head, but that is not the case here. Instead, the home video segments plod along for the vast majority of the 80 minute run time. There is not build up of threats, no sense of danger. It is not really until the final 15 minutes or so of the film that the family even realizes that they are in trouble. At that point, the film commits some of sins associated with found footage – substituting “shaky cam” for showing anything of substance and characters running around illogically and screaming incoherently. This makes it impossible for the audience to following anything at all that is going on; half the time, one cannot even tell what character is on screen.
Aside from the pacing issues, The Purging Hour is plagued with numerous inconsistencies that pull the viewer out of the illusion that they are watching something “real”, and this is particularly a problem, as this illusion is one of the foundations of found footage. The story is supposed to be contemporary, but the home video footage appears to be shot on an analog camera. At least, the artifacts and glitches and noise that are shown look more like those from videotape than from digital recording. The Diaz’s are supposedly moving into an isolated home in the mountains, but one can easily see other homes just outside in the footage shot from within the house. In fact, it appears that they may not be in a house at all but in a condominium or townhome. In regards to the move, the Diaz’s must have paid the movers to completely unpack their boxes and set up the entire house, as everything is already in place when they get there. To be honest, it looks more like a vacation home than a home into which a family is moving. Also, if the family is moving far from home, as it is implied in the dialogue, how is the boyfriend Mark intending to get back to his home, since he is riding along with them. When the family members that meet their ends on screen are finally killed, it does not jibe with anything mentioned or hinted at by the interviewees earlier. Ambiguity is fine, and is often desired, but it should at least hint that the filmmakers may have a definitive story in mind. Here, that is not the case; the characters’ fates essentially feel random. All of these inconsistencies add up and prevent the viewer from being pulled into the story.
While found footage is a format that lends itself to low budget filmmaking, it requires attention to detail to help create the air of verisimilitude that is essential to its success. The Purging Hour starts out strong, using the interview portions of its mockumentary format to provide exposition and giving the found footage segments time to build the family dynamic. Unfortunately, too much time is spent on the mundane activities of the family without providing any sense of menace until the very final moments of the film. Numerous inconsistencies in the storytelling further remove the viewer from the sense that what they are watching is real, thereby reducing the effectiveness of the film overall. There are hints of interesting ideas here, but ultimately, the film does not live up to the promise of its early scenes.
The Purging Hour (1.5 / 5)