Release Date: December 3, 2013 (DVD & VOD)
Director: Paul Hyett
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Film Pulse Score: 6.5/10
It’s fair to say that the only thing that could prove much more scarier than your average horror film is life itself. The atrocities man commits against his own can fuel nightmares.
The horror crosses the line from being mere make believe to uncomfortable plausibility. The Silence of the Lambs was quite chilling because it was so plausible. While The Texas Chainsaw Massacre proved terrifying it was Ed Gein that delivered the uneasy horror because it was a true story. While not based on a true story, Paul Hyett’s The Seasoning House is based on actual occurrences in the Balkans of the late 1990s. Beyond the horrors of war, other atrocities were occurring and there seemed to be nothing that anyone could do about it.
The Seasoning House is a home of ill repute. It is a house where women are enslaved into prostitution. The house master has his girls drugged before each trick so that they’ll be more susceptible. The primary clientele is the military who pretty much have their way with the women; beat them, sodomize them, basically do whatever just short of killing them which does happen. A young, orphaned, deaf-mute named Angel has been spared the indignity of her housemate’s fate. Her job is to “prepare” the girls which she does so without hesitation. Longing to escape from this nightmare, she has become adept at moving between the walls of the house searching for a way out.
There’s no denying that Hyett’s film could be easily viewed as misogynistic. On the contrary, the women that the film focuses upon are quite strong mentally and physically. It is sad and uncomfortable to see the hell they are put through especially when you know there are women who had to endure this sort of torture. The sex scenes are never titillating but prove uncomfortable to watch because you see how broken these women are. You can see and perhaps feel the pain they are enduring. In the most dire of situations it is there will to survive that drives them on, especially young Angel. As viewer’s we want to see them get out of this and are willing to go along for the ride to see if it happens.
One of the things that convince us to endure are the performance of Rosie Day as Angel and Anna Walton as Violeta. The two of them develop a strong bond and it’s this bond that actually ratchets up the tension as the film progresses. The things that Violeta is forced to endure, which we are subsequently forced to watch in all its horrifying glory, is heartbreaking. Day is very convincing in her performance that you actually believe she is deaf. Despite her routine you can see that she cares about these women as though she was the mother hen. She delivers a very quiet, soulful performance that truly captures the innocence she has lost. Walton is excellent as Violeta. She is the one who must endure the most to show how horrific and grave their situation is. She is very good in every scene she is in. Kevin Howarth stars as Victor the manor lord if you will. He does a good job playing the boss. Strong willed, business like and not beyond having a soft spot for some of his wards. Sean Pertwee also stars as Goran, a military officer who proves to be the film’s real villain. He is quite effective. Evil, sadistic and maniacal.
Hyett and co-writer Conal Palmer have crafted a taught thriller that really kicks into overdrive during the third act. While it does get a bit over the top towards the end it still reaches a satisfying conclusion considering the subject matter. Hyett shoots things matter of factly and it isn’t exploitative. The washed out look of the film, thanks to Adam Etherington’s cinematography, gives the film a certain level of uncomfortable verisimilitude. Caroline Story’s production design helps cement that you are there feeling even though you know it’s a set.
This is a solid thriller that can be hard to watch at times. It features some taught sequences, very good acting, a memorable set of villains and great production design. If not for the final act this could have been even better than it was. Still this is one worth watching if you can stomach the material.