Director: Paul Hyett
Starring: Rosie Day, Sean Pertwee, Kevin Howarth, Dominique Provost-Chalkley, Anna Walton
Running time: 90 minutes
Cinema release date: 21 June 2013
DVD release date: 12 August 2013
Paul Hyett’s debut as both a writer and director is set in a brothel house amidst the bloody Balkan warzone. Given Hyett’s special effects background one may have expected him to opt for a monster movie in his premiere directorial outing but instead he has delivered a deftly serious film where authenticity and sensitivity to the subject matter are absolutely key. Fortunately, he has created a strong slice of cinema which is bleak, engaging, tragic and moving; sometimes at the same time. It was also amongst the best films shown at last year’s FrightFest extravaganza.
The film’s protagonist, Angel (Day), is a deaf and mute girl who – after a group of soldiers force their way into her family home and murder her family – is abducted and forced to work in a downtrodden brothel house ran by Viktor (Howarth). The tone of the film is set early on when the psychopathic businessman Viktor gathers a group of newly imprisoned girls and lays down a few ground rules to abide by and hard truths to swallow:
There is nothing outside of these walls for you to believe in.
To illustrate his point and establish his dominance he grabs one of the prisoners and slices her throat in full view of the camera and wailing girls. To the BBFC’s credit this bloody sequence and the film in its entirety was passed uncut.
Shortly following this it is established that Viktor has taken a liking to Angel – a theme which develops further as the film progresses – rather than joining the other prostitutes she serves as Viktor’s assistant. Her duties include dosing up the girls with heroin and applying fresh makeup before they see clients. But don’t think that makeup means glamour, it is smeared on with grimy fingers whilst the girls either bawl in agony or are so drugged-up and emotionally defeated they lie back: complicit, drained and corpse-like.
After focusing on Angel for the first act, the soldiers that abducted Angel return to the brothel to make use of Viktor’s ‘amenities’ and hospitality. This leads to an inevitable confrontation where the tension is ramped up further, thanks to a chilling soundtrack, claustrophobic camerawork and what deserves to be an award-winning performance from Rosie Day.
A particularly powerful theme which runs throughout The Seasoning House is that of friendship and the human spirit even in the face of such unthinkable circumstances. Angel strikes up a friendship with one of the other prisoners, Vanya (Provost-Chalkley). Bonding through their common suffering and Vanya’s sign language, Angel is fiercely loyal to Vanya doing whatever she can to make her life that bit more bearable. But it’s in these acts of kindness that we see some of the most heartbreaking moments. Angel initially abstains from injecting heroin into Vanya, but she meekly mutters: “Please, it helps.” Their friendship is perhaps illustrated best when amongst the tears and hopelessness the two share a piece of chocolate: a poignant and powerful scene.
Viktor, whose feelings for Angel intensify as the film progresses, tries to justify the violence to her. When she gestures towards a badly beaten girl he says, “He likes to be rough with them,” adding as way of explanation, “He pays extra.” The severity of the injuries are revealed further when the doctor is called to examine the girl in question – an act which is more to check she is ‘able to work’ than one of kindness. The doctor informs the girl, “You have some wheezing and a little tearing down there, but apart from that you’ll be okay.” However, a private conversation with Viktor moments later reveals, “She has a broken pelvis, Viktor!” That’s the level of violence you can expect from The Seasoning House.
The film’s score, courtesy of Paul E. Francis, is one of the most atmospheric in horror cinema this year. Not only does it serve to complement and elevate the tension, but in the opening ten minutes in which we see the world through Angel’s eyes – with limited dialogue to simulate her perspective – it carries us through the harrowing on-screen violence with maximum impact. The score plays a similar role in the third and final act where The Seasoning House takes a more action-orientated turn – which will no doubt divide viewers – but as with the preceding hour it does so with a seriousness which fits the film and subject matter.
The Seasoning House is a brilliant directorial debut from Paul Hyett. It is not for those with a weak stomach and it will prove uncomfortable viewing at times. If you’re a fan of Martyrs, Snowtown or other films which confront very real horrors through a full-on yet tasteful lens, then this one’s for you.
“Darkly beautiful and bleakly poetic, The Seasoning House is an affecting and brutal piece of work. While it lets itself down somewhat with a third act shift to a focus on survival-horror trappings it remains a powerfully lyrical debut for first-time director Paul Hyett.”
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