Renowned British special effects artist Paul Hyett makes his directorial debut in this satisfyingly gory and tense Balkan brothel-set horror come revenge-thriller.
With a back catalogue of films that include, but are not limited to, titles such as The Descent, The Woman in Black, Doomsday, Eden Lake and Mutant Chronicles it comes as no surprise that Paul Hyett has learnt a thing or two about the horror genre during his work in special effects/make-up. The Seasoning House however is perhaps a touch more serious than some of these titles. Set in the aftermath of war atrocities in the Balkans, the film introduces its protagonist (the somewhat cornily named Angel, played by Rosie Day) to the audience as her family are murdered and she is shipped off to work in a brothel.
Deemed too young to be a working girl, Angel is instead put to work washing and routinely doping up the rest of those imprisoned in the dank, palpably diseased whorehouse. The proprietor of the building is Viktor, a cruel man who is un-phased by the routine physical abuse suffered by those he keeps captive. When Goran, a genocidal war criminal played enthusiastically by Sean Pertwee, and his troops turn up at the brothel, things go from bad to worse when Angel brutally, and also rather clumsily, murders one of the soldiers who is raping a girl to death.
The opening act of the film plays out with peculiar art-house pretentions, highlighted through minimal dialogue and a number of eery tracking shots. Unfortunately these are all too frequently pretensions that the film itself can’t quite live up to; belying the inherently grimy and exploitative nature of its narrative. What the film does very well however is create a palpable sense of tension and shock that’s sustained effectively throughout the film once the characters and locale have been suitably established in the slightly turgid opening act.
Angel is deaf and this simple narrative premise is played out superbly in a number of set-piece masterstrokes. Angel’s size allows her crawl between the walls of the house, invisible by sight to the soldiers hunting her down but locatable by sound. Oblivious and unaware of the noise of her own fumbling around in the nooks and crannies of the building, the soldiers wait patiently in silence to hear her. It’s a straightforward concept, and The Seasoning House takes real advantage of this – one scene in which she is being pursued across the rafters is particularly memorable.
As you might expect given the director’s background, the special effects are visceral and genuinely pretty disgusting. It’s in these grubbier and more uncomfortable elements of The Seasoning House that it paradoxically begins to shine. Hyett feels much more at home in these sequences which emphasise gore and suspense than the more dream-like, slightly Malick-esque opening scenes. At its heart, this is a nasty little exploitation film that’s as shocking and gripping as it is entertaining. One of the better British horror films in recent years, we’re looking forward to seeing what Hyett can/will do next; hopefully it’ll have a larger budget and actors with slightly less dodgy Soviet accents.
The Seasoning House is out in cinemas on Friday 21st June, 2013.