“The Seasoning House” has been highly anticipated by British genre fans, marking the directorial debut of Paul Hyett, a respected and prolific special effects craftsman who has worked on an impressive number of productions including “The Descent”, “The Woman in Black” and many more. Chosen for the opening night of London FrightFest 2012, the film has being going down well with fans and critics at a variety of international festivals, and has a solid cast that includes Rosie Day (“Ironclad 2”), Anna Walton (“Hellboy 2”) and Kevin Howarth (“The Last Horror Movie”), with much-loved Brit character actor and genre mainstay Sean Pertwee (“Dog Soldiers”) in an entertainingly villainous role.
The film has a grim premise, being set in a Balkan brothel where unfortunate young women are kidnapped and forced into prostitution to service soldiers and mercenaries. Also living in the house is Angel (Rosie Day), a deaf mute girl orphaned by the conflict, who keeps herself alive by working for the ruthless Viktor (Kevin Howarth), cleaning the captives and keeping them too drugged up to resist. Though Angel manages to remain numb to the atrocities she witnesses every day, when she befriends newcomer Vanya (Dominique Provost-Chalkley), the horrors of the house are hammered home. However, her plans for escape are complicated when a group of soldiers arrive, led by Sean Pertwee’s ruthless Goran, who just happen to be the ones responsible for the death of her family.
Unsurprisingly, “The Seasoning House” isn’t exactly fun viewing, and Hyett does a good, thankfully unexploitative job of powerfully evoking horror while maintaining an air of awful realism. For the first hour at least the film is claustrophobic, nastily atmospheric and frequently difficult to watch, Hyett slowly building the tension and working in a few messily unpleasant and extremely well executed gore scenes as Angel starts hiding in the walls and killing off Goran’s men. The film is easily one the grimmest horrors of the last couple of years, all the more so since Hyett wisely shies away from making it too much of a revenge thriller as such, avoiding anything overtly rousing and focusing mainly on desperation and survival. The cast all help, and though there’s always a slight awkwardness from shooting in the English language while purporting to be taking place in another country, Rosie Day and Kevin Howarth are both fine in the two main roles, and Sean Pertwee, as usual, proves good value for money in terms of scenery chewing.
Sadly, the film loses focus during the final act, becoming more of a generic stalk and slash chase thriller and increasingly recalling “Eden Lake”, leading to a predictable finale that lacks the kind of gut punch that its earlier scenes suggested. This also sees the script falling back on some fairly daft and generic horror movie type behaviour, and this similarly undermines the fine work that has gone before, Hyett stumbling slightly by going conventional rather than holding his nerve.
Still, there’s a great deal here to admire, if perhaps not enjoy, with Hyett showing himself to be a talented and promising helmer, making great use of his locations and delivering some very effective shocks. Whilst it never quite manages that little bit extra that might have lifted it from being very good to truly great, “The Seasoning House” is nevertheless a superior example of modern British horror cinema.
“The Seasoning House” is due out in the UK in June 2013 via Kaleidoscope Entertainment.
Paul Hyett (director) / Paul Hyett, Conal Palmer, Adrian Rigelsford, Helen Solomon (screenplay)
CAST: Rosie Day … Angel
Sean Pertwee … Goran
Kevin Howarth … Viktor
Anna Walton … Violeta
Jemma Powell … Alexa
Alec Utgoff … Josif