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Movie Review: The Playground


The Playground is a dark and foreboding drama thriller and feature film debut for writer-director Edreace Purmul. Set as a series of chapters, we slowly advance up a flight of cobblestone stairs as this ominous and atmospheric ensemble drama journeys with five distinct individuals.

Joseph is a priest seeking solace on the outskirts of the city. Mr. Vaugn is a businessman, who finds himself in a great deal of financial distress. Grandison is homeless and looking to escape a life of destitution. Jill is a hairdresser trying to rescue her failing marriage, while her ex-con husband, Jack, tries to make good on a deal.

These intersecting tales of temptation keep you watching and waiting as the atmosphere thickens and things begin to spiral. It's a bleak, evil world and this tale of morality functions like a fable, drawing inspiration from folk lore and oral literature including: The Treasure-Bringer, The Son of the Thunder, Barisa and Tales of the Devil.

Lacing these stories and characters into one saga gives this low budget production overarching scale. The thought-provoking interplay of man vs. ideology makes The Playground a challenging film, which like The Exorcist, will sharpen your convictions, or bring them into question.

The Playground 2016 movie review

"To drive or not to drive..."

Purmul's film has a subversive quality as a mysterious man encounters a young girl in a playground, and launches into his anthology of stories. The dynamic is unsettling and the real-life fables give evil unrestrictive power in each situation.

This can be explained away by the grand puppet master, who functions as an omnipotent presence, but the nature of fables and the devious ambitions of this pivotal character make the film's intentions questionable.

The ensemble features Myles Cranford as an unnerving homeless man, Merrick McGartha as an impressionable and crazed counterpart, Christopher Salazar's haunting and melancholy disposition adds to a stereotypical priest, Shane P. Allen works well as a slime ball tycoon, Laurence R. Kivett gives Jack a rambling wanderlust while Ghandir Mounib owns a not-so-naive Jill. To cap it off, Daniel Armand's nameless man is cloaked in mystery, never fully revealed... keeping an air of suspense like a chilling variation of Dracula.

The Playground's air of intrigue is perpetuated by its dark soundtrack, fable storytelling and mysterious chapter format. At 151 minutes, it's a long film, which does feel somewhat drawn out at times. The performances are perfunctory to good and while the stereotypes have their place in an every-man fable, they keep us at an arm's length from the characters.

The dark omens, ominous tone and horror thriller elements will keep genre fans intrigued, but will deter most other audiences with its penchant for evil and slow-boiling to drawn out run time. It's a passion project and the film-makers lean into the abyss, but to the detriment of the film's overall appeal.

Purmul shows flair, creates some truly unsettling moments, demonstrates great resourcefulness and carries the film with a marked consistency in terms of production. Unfortunately, while he mostly meets his ambitions, the duration, insidious atmosphere and seemingly ulterior motives curtail the film's intrinsic entertainment value.

Watching with some hesitation makes it a challenging film experience, which while laden with merit, proficiency and passion, only make it feel like a missed opportunity. The Playground is a niche epic and its dark credence is disturbing, subverting one's enjoyment of the film. Purmul demonstrates his craft and achieves much with little, but it would be good to see what he could do with a broader budget and less divisive content.

The bottom line: Precarious