I discussed the trailer for this Australian action/fantasy flick awhile back, and I was surprised it never had any kind of theatrical release in the states. Now that I've seen the film (just out from Sony Home Entertainment), it falls just short of feeling like an A picture and with no recognizable faces in the cast I can see where distributors might have been hesitant to pick it up. Still, this is a nice little slice of dark fantasy, and I can still see it finding a following even as a direct to DVD release.
Purgatory, or at least the Purgatory of this film, is a dank urban sprawl populated by people who have earned neither heaven nor hell. Control of the city is currently in the hands of The Fallen. While the words "God" and "devil" are never used, you don't need to be a theologian to figure out whose side they are on, and as a result the city remains in perpetual darkness. Gabriel (Andy Whitfield) is the latest in a series of Archangels who have been sent to reclaim the city for the forces of light. While in Purgatory, Archangels and Fallen alike must assume mortal forms, a very unpleasant transition, which provides ample opportunity for martial arts and automatic weapons fire when the two forces clash. Once in Purgatory Gabriel attempts to contact the other Archangels who have gone before him. Anticipating his own death, the Archangel Michael has left a note for Gabriel, warning him that the other angels have failed in their attempt to regain control of the city. The angel Uriel (Harry Pavlidis) has gone native, developed a drinking problem and is living in a bus at an abandoned drive-in theater. Amitiel (Samantha Noble) lost the battle against Sammael, leader of The Fallen (Dwaine Stevenson), and has been stripped of her wings and forced to work as a prostitute. Ithuriel (Matt Hylton Todd) has given up on the war but does what he can by running a soup kitchen. Gabriel soon learns that he is alone and badly outnumbered in this war against The Fallen.
There's a striking similarity between Gabriel and The Prophecy and its sequels, in which Christopher Walken played a far less sympathetic version of the archangel Gabriel. In both films angels are portrayed as taking mortal form (though still retaining supernatural abilities) and walking around in trench coats being all angsty and fighting an army of fallen angels. Throw in a dash of Underworld and The Crow, with a smattering of Vertigo Comics' take on heaven and hell and and you've got a pretty accurate blueprint of Gabriel's influences. Still, the movie never strays into knock-off territory and manages to be quite entertaining in its own right.
One of the film's biggest stars is the city itself. Not unlike the gothic cityscapes of the Tim Burton Batman movies, Purgatory is a nightmarish city that could only exist on film. It's a pity director Shane Abbess didn't delve further into how the city works. We see plenty of junkies, hookers and homeless people, but presumably someone must live in those skyscrapers. Do these people even know where they are? Since these people are already dead, what happens to them if they die again in Purgatory? I found the ending a bit confusing and the story would have benefited from a few more twists and turns, but the production values are top notch, the acting is solid, and the action is pretty spectacular.