Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Seasoning House (2012) : A Brutal Yet Compelling Debut

For at least ten days, THE SEASONING HOUSE sat on my coffee table, waiting to be watched.  For some reason, I kept putting off watching it, thinking I just wasn't in the mood for a film I had heard was intensely violent and difficult to watch.  But after a particularly bad day at work, I thought a little brutality might just be the ticket.

Directed (and co-written) by former special effects wiz Paul Hyett, THE SEASONING HOUSE wastes no time getting right to it.  A young girl is brought to a house of horrors in which teenage girls are forced into prostitution to service soldiers on break from war in the Balkans.

Viktor (Kevin Howarth) is their pimp, the owner of the brutal brothel, and he takes a special interest in the girl he names Angel.  Angel (Rosie Day) is a deaf mute, and has an unsightly port-wine birthmark on her face, making her seemingly too unattractive to present to the militia.  Instead, he forces her to be his personal sex slave, though he does seem to genuinely care about her in his own warped way.

In flashbacks, we come to realize Angel has been ripped from her home, having watched her mother be shot and killed right in front of her by soldiers who then round up all the young women in town and bring them to Viktor.

Angel has the unenviable task of doping up the restrained women, making them less likely to fight during their assaults. She paints their faces with makeup beforehand, and afterward she cleans them up and empties their waste buckets. 

One day one of the captives, Vanya (Dominique Provost-Chalkley), realizes Angel is deaf and makes a connection to Angel by using sign language.  Angel is shocked to see someone who knows how to sign, and the two are able to strike up a friendship.    Angel spends time with her friend but doesn't allow anyone at the house to know they are close.

Angel has a habit of sneaking around the house by exploring between the walls, and knows its secrets inside and out.  She's able to sneak in to see Vanya without anyone being the wiser, but with this friendship comes the capacity to love, and Angel ends up an unwilling witness to the violent rape and brutal beatings that her friend has to go through, at one point her pelvis is broken during the sex act. Viktor explains this ferocity away by announcing that the men pay more to use the girls more "extensively".

As if things couldn't possibly get any worse, the band of soldiers responsible for her mother's death come calling.  They are there for a rollicking good time and won't be deterred by Viktor, who seems uneasy at their arrival.  The leader of the pack, Goran, is played by none other than Sean Pertwee, whom I love in anything and everything.  He plays a convincing ogre in this film, a baddie from the word go - but he's extraordinarily fun to watch, even as an evil tyrant.  Once Angel recognizes that this is the man who is directly responsible for her mother's death and for giving her and the other girls the horrific life they are living, a plan begins to form in her mind.  A plan made even clearer once a beastly hulk of a soldier set to have an unrelenting and brutal interlude with her friend goes too far.

I didn't want to like this movie.  I wanted to hate it on principle.  I shouldn't like a film that brutalizes and perpetuates violence against women.  Something that shows in inhumanity of people should not be a fun time. But hot damn, this is a decent film.  Rosie Day as Angel is the center point and everything revolves around how it affects her.  The depth of emotion with which she plays her forlorn and bereft character is astounding, she's that good.  I had no choice but to become completely immersed in her world and her desperate situation.  I felt it in my gut when things were at their worst, and reveled in her triumphs as she attempted revenge.

Hyett doesn't hold back here.  He's telling a story that in some parts of the world is all too true, and the gritty sets and design tell a bleak tale all on their own. It's both appalling and riveting.  It made me sick to my stomach, yet compelled me to watch onward.  It was like an exquisite train can't take your eyes off it.

 THE SEASONING HOUSE shouldn't be disregarded as yet another "torture porn" or exploitation-type of film, as it has a bigger, more harrowing tale to tell.  You'll be thinking about it long after it's over.  I know I still am.

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