Blumhouse gives us a film about a young woman at a purity retreat dealing with her inner demon.
Shay (Jahkara Smith) and her sister Jo (McKaley Miller) are taken by their father, Kyle (Jim Klock), to a purity retreat to affirm their commitment to staying virgins until marriage. Jo, a rebel, has been before and hates the retreat, while Shay agrees to go because she has only just met Kyle. He had an affair with her mother years ago and never found out she was pregnant. At the camp they’re met by Pastor Seth (Scott Porter), the head of the retreat, who gives a sermon condemning Lilith, the first wife of Adam from the Bible, who was sexually unchaste. That night Jo convinces Shay to join her and two other girls in a ritual to summon Lilith as a figure of female empowerment, something which appears to give Shay strange powers and visions. As the “purity ball” approaches, Shay starts to believe that there may be something deeply wrong with the retreat, and with her.
One man’s devil is another woman’s angel. That’s an actual line from this movie (paraphrased, maybe, I’m not rewatching it just to see) and it’s pretty much the central theme. Lilith, a figure who plays a role predominantly in Hebrew mythology, was the first wife of Adam, the first man. She was made out of Earth, just like Adam, and that led to a massive conflict between them because she refused to be subservient. They were created equally, so she wanted to be equal. Naturally, Adam refused this and she left him, leading to the creation of Eve, who is born of Adam and thus below him. Lilith is usually portrayed as a demon for this, even though her sin was just asking to be equal to Adam, not even above him.
This movie uses that as a jumping off point, because we are watching a “purity” ritual which directly requires women to be subservient to men. First, girls are subservient to their fathers, to whom they must devote their purity, and then to their husbands, to whom they devote their fidelity. The film points out that, while this may seem to be upholding God’s law upon Christians, the truth is that most of the time men are given more leeway. When Jo asks if their husbands are also expected to be virgins, the Pastor says that “we all know some things are a little different for men.” Even if men are asked to be chaste, they’re allowed to monitor their own chastity, whereas the women are required to place theirs under a man’s watchful gaze. It’s also shown that women are punished at the retreat for being impure and not just with a stern talking to, despite the fact that many of the men are shown to do much more “impure” acts. Basically, the film is a commentary on the fact that programs and traditions about “protecting” women are really just an excuse to guarantee their subservience.
While the film’s supernatural and demonic elements are focused on Lilith, the real evil in the movie is sexism and religious practices used to justify it. It gives the movie a much greater impact that a plain monster movie. If you like horror movies that have social messages, this is one you should check out.
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