Studio: Well Go USA
Director: Paul Hyett
Writer: Paul Hyett, Conal Palmer, Adrian Riglesford
Producer: Michael Riley
Stars: Rosie Day, Sean Pertwee, Kevin Howarth, Anna Walton, Jemma Powell
A deaf mute enslaved in a house of prostitution finds a way to exact revenge on the merciless soldiers who destroyed her life.
Know upfront that “The Seasoning House” has a first half hour that is a punishing experience. Top tier revenge thrillers such as “Last House on the Left” by nature contain jarring moments of gritty brutality, but there is an underlying sense of cinematic unreality beneath the terror even without having to repeat, “it’s only a movie.” Yet “The Seasoning House” is grounded in a grim realism that makes its unflinching horror even more uncomfortably tragic.
Set against the backdrop of the Balkan Peninsula during the height of the region’s unrest in the 1990’s, “The Seasoning House” features graphic depictions of violent rape against children, torturous abuse, and myriad other deplorable actions of Slavic soldiers acting without conscience or morality. With the expository sequences drenched in matter-of-fact drama, the connotation drawn to memories of news reports from that era frame the revulsion in a disturbing perspective of unfortunate historical truthfulness.
A debate can be had about how much of the sexual violence and psychological aftermath on display is necessary for the movie to achieve its goals. But no consensus would ever be reached on a theme that controversial to begin with. The effect is purposefully unsettling, and it comes with a question of whether events can fire on cylinders other than providing a tone that makes the film difficult to watch. Fortunately, the answer to that question is yes, it can.
Young actress Rosie Day collaborates with an impressively structured screenplay to create a fully developed character from a completely wordless performance. Day astonishes as Angel, a deaf mute ripped away at gunpoint from her executed mother to be enslaved in a house where abducted girls are abused as sex slaves. As the revolving door of military clientele unremorsefully rapes and beats, Angel’s job is to keep the merchandise doped with heroin and to cleanse the wounds when pelvises are reprehensibly broken.
Angel moves about the whorehouse surreptitiously via grates in the wall that link the rooms together. She eventually befriends a new girl whose life with a deaf father gave her the ability to communicate with Angel through sign language. It is this connection that inspires Angel to take action when the latest crop of customers turns out to be the same group of depraved soldiers that murdered her mother and gave her this Hell.
Equaling Rosie Day in screen presence is Sean Pertwee as the mercilessly militant Goran. He spikes his unhinged soldier persona with a wide-eyed menace that expresses cold and calculating menace with unapologetic mania. Goran and Angel are finely tuned as perfectly matched adversaries.
What charity the movie does have for its audience comes when the aggression shifts from the soldiers and onto Angel. The stark reality remains hanging in the air, but the mind is thankfully allowed to engage in “The Seasoning House” as more of a nailbiting cinematic experience as opposed to purely oppressive drama. The darkness of the first act then works more so in retrospect to balance the bursts of stylistic action and beats of tension that populate the latter part of the plot.
Making his feature film debut, director Paul Hyett has a lengthy résumé full of special effects credits. Unsurprisingly, “The Seasoning House” includes several well-designed scenes of sudden shocks delivered with skillfully crafted makeup effects that heighten the onscreen horror.
First features are rarely this crisp. For all of the controversy that Hyett risks courting with the setup and the subject matter, his film avoids exploiting perversion for a careful focus on tension and suspense. “The Seasoning House” does not reinvent the revenge thriller, but it encapsulates all of the elements and feelings, for better and for worse, that give the sub-genre such power to leave a lasting impression on the mind.
Review Score: 80