Purgatory is defined as a place where the souls of the dead or dying must exculpate their sins before passing on to the afterlife or as a place of prolonged suffering, atonement, or remorse. In any case, it may seem like an odd place to set a movie. But the plots of the movies on this list, which range from creepy and spiritual to action-packed, all take place in the realm of limbo, even if their protagonists aren’t aware of it.
Before we begin, a quick warning that there are major spoilers ahead. Most purgatory movies don’t reveal what purgatory looks like up front, so to talk about them, we’re going to have to reveal some endings. You have been warned!
Related: Top 10 Incredible Movies With Ambiguous Endings
10 The Haunter (2013)
Haunter is a film directed by Vincenzo Natali that tells the story of a girl named Lisa (Abigail Breslin) who lives the same day over and over again. Worse, it’s the day before her birthday, and her family seems blissfully unaware of the Groundhog Day problem. Oh, and the house she lives in seems to be haunted.
Eventually, Lisa becomes more aware of what’s going on. And she discovers that it’s not so much that something is stalking her family, but that they are stalking her, forever trapped in the day they died. The only way to escape this purgatory time loop is to contact the spirits of other murdered girls and Olivia, a girl currently living in the house during the present.
Along with the classic haunted house story with a twist, Persecutor it also touches on a lot of young adult themes. And while it did little to surprise contemporary critics, the premise is novel enough to be worth checking out.
9 Cruel and Unusual (2014)
cruel and unusual is a surreal thriller directed by Merlin Dervisevic. It stars David Richmone-Peck as Edgar, a man convicted of murdering his wife and sentenced to relive his death for eternity. That is, between endless group therapy sessions with other apparent murderers in some form of seemingly eternal institution. Little by little, Edgar begins to piece together what really happened between him and his wife, and discovers that salvation might still be possible.
Yeah, cruel and unusual is another movie that takes the basic premise of groundhog day, increases the nightmare fuel and adds some spiritual undertones. The result is more bizarre than horrifying and could have used some comic relief. Nonetheless, it certainly offers a fascinating premise.
8 Triangle (2009)
Another movie where the main character gets stuck in a punishment time loop is Triangle. And this British-Australian film, directed by Christopher Smith, is an underrated gem. Initially, Triangle it comes off as a run-of-the-mill slasher about a boat trip gone horribly wrong. But this gory horror has many more twists in store for viewers.
At the center of the film is the story of Jess (Melissa George), a single mother struggling to care for her autistic son. What’s really going on with her and the corpses that show up on the ship and why she ends up in a time loop is somewhat open to interpretation. But the most common prevailing theory is that something has trapped Jess in its own version of hell because of her sins. And it has been noted that the film shares many parallels with the Greek myth of Sisyphus and some clear influences from the film. Jacob’s Ladder. In any case, Jess’s experience certainly seems like a form of purgatory, and the movie is certainly worth watching.
7 Gabriel (2007)
Prefer your eternal limbo to be a little more action-packed? you could enjoy Gabriel, an Australian action horror directed by Shane Abbess. In this film, purgatory is depicted as a dark, smoky, and shadowy realm containing the souls of those caught between heaven and hell and where fallen angels and archangels fight for rule.
Gabriel it received mixed reviews upon release, with some complaining about the stilted dialogue and lack of strong characters. But considering its small budget, the filmmakers did a remarkable job with the visuals and sound. And if you’re a fan of gothic action movies like constantine and Underworldyou will probably have fun Gabriel.
6 Silent Hill (2006)
Silent Hill It is one of the most beloved horror video game franchises in history that saw gamers traverse and try to survive in nightmarish realms. And in 2006, the series hit the big screen for the first time, only to largely negative reviews. But, in retrospect, it’s still one of the best video game-to-film adaptations out there.
The plot follows a woman named Rosa Da Silva (Radha Mitchell) and her search for her troubled daughter after she goes missing in the abandoned city of Silent Hill. Soon enough, it becomes clear that Silent Hill is not just any town. Instead, it’s a place where ash falls from the sky and is regularly broadcast to a hellish dimension where abominations stalk the (seemingly) living. Of course, neither Rosa nor her daughter are really in the city, nor in a hellish dimension, but somewhere in between.
5 Purgatory (1999)
Purgatory centers on a gang of outlaws who are on the run from a bank job gone wrong and end up in a town called Refugio. There, they find an unusually peaceful place where the residents are especially God-fearing, and all forms of sin are highly frowned upon. There are no firearms, violence, alcohol or even swearing.
Unsurprisingly, the outlaws view the city as easy prey. But one of its members, Leon “Sonny” Dillard (Brad Rowe), notices something strangely peculiar about the town’s residents: they all seem like dead western legends. The sheriff looks like Wild Bill Hickock, the shopkeeper looks like Jesse James, and the doctor looks like Doc Holliday.
In case you didn’t guess from the title, the outlaws have made their way into purgatory. And everyone is acting too angelic because they are trying to be accepted in heaven. But while the plot may be a bit over the top, it’s no less an intriguing movie that feels like a cross between a classic western and an episode of the twilight zone. Or, as the advertisements of the time put it, “not your ordinary bloody western.”
4 Control (2003)
check is a 2003 Hungarian black comedy directed by Nimród Antal and set entirely in the underground system of the Budapest metro. The story centers on Bulcsú (Sándor Csányi), a ticket inspector who spends his nights sleeping in the total darkness of the station platforms. For reasons never fully explained, Bulcsú has an aversion to returning to the surface. And things get weirder when a hooded figure dressed just like Bulcsú starts killing passengers.
check It’s another one of those movies where the plot is left open to interpretation. But the healthy dose of Christian imagery, dream sequences, and the film’s final scene, which features a girl dressed as an angel, suggests our main character is stuck in limbo. But whether or not our main character’s purgatory is spiritual or self-imposed, he certainly seems to be stuck and suffering. In any case, check it’s pretty good and surprisingly creepy for something marketed as a comedy.
3 Lost Highway (1997)
lost highway is a film directed by David Lynch starring Bill Pullman as Fred Madison, a jazz saxophonist who, we are led to believe, suspects that his wife (Patricia Arquette) might be cheating on him. After some run-ins with a strange, pale, mysterious man and several bizarre videotapes, Madison finds herself in a jail cell, convicted of the murder of his wife. In true Lynchian fashion, things take a wild and unexpected turn when Madison transforms into a young man named Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty) and begins an affair with a woman who resembles his late wife.
Like many of David Lynch’s films, lost highway defies most logical explanations. And there’s an extensive rabbit hole of fan theories. However, what is often accepted is that the film’s plot represents a kind of Möbius strip.
At the beginning of the film, Madison receives a strange intercom message that “Dick Laurent is dead.” It’s only towards the end that we learn that Madison is relaying this message himself. And this, combined with a few other time-altering clues, suggests that Madison has trapped himself in a reality-altering loop, where he’s no less doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again.
Or, in other words, he’s trapped in a form of purgatory of his own design.
2 Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)
Here’s a movie that, if mishandled, could have been deeply offensive and tasteless. But it turns out that wrist clipper manages to be quite charming… in an absurd way. The film stars Patrick Fugit as Zia, who, after taking her own life, ends up in a state of limbo. In this new world, everything is almost the same as before, only everything is a little worse: nobody smiles, things don’t work as they should, and everything is a bit depressing.
After learning that his ex-girlfriend is also trapped in this world of limbo, Zia heads out in his beat-up car (featuring a black hole and unrepairable headlights) with his friends to find her. It follows a typical coming-of-age story, with quirky new friends made along the way. Typical, that is, but from the fact that everyone is dead and depressed, and the topic of suicide looms over everything.
If everything seems a bit strange, that’s because it is. But director Goran Dukic’s vision is better than it seems. And the film inevitably received multiple award nominations. It also won a few, including Best Feature Film at the Gen Art Film Festival.
1 Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Jacob’s Ladder follows the story of Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins), an American who served in the Vietnam War and now suffers from terrifying hallucinations. After reuniting with his former service partner, Singer begins to unravel a conspiracy of government experiments on his former squad, which he believes is causing them to have strange visions of him.
It’s only towards the end of the movie that we find out that Singer and his platoon attacked each other in Vietnam after receiving an experimental drug. And that Singer is still in Vietnam, dying in a tent.
Jacob’s Ladder it is harrowing and relentless. As a result, it’s not for the faint of heart. but as depressing as Jacob’s Ladder May be, this cult classic from Adrian Lyne is also a thoughtful and powerful work of cinema. And few other movies have explored the concept of purgatory as effectively.
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