Movie Review: The Seasoning House Ian White June 12, 2013 Editor's Choice, Movie Reviews 4834 Paul Hyettâ€™s masterful directorial debut â€˜The Seasoning Houseâ€™ was the opening film of Londonâ€™s FrightFest 2012. I was there that night and I hadnâ€™t known what to expect. What I saw was ninety minutes of powerful, brilliant, and occasionally extremely nasty storytelling. â€˜The Seasoning Houseâ€™ blindsided me, and when FrightFest closed four days later it was tied with â€˜American Maryâ€™ as my favourite movie of the Festival. That was nine months ago, and now â€˜The Seasoning Houseâ€™ is finally being released to cinemas. Watching it again, my opinion hasnâ€™t changed. If anything, on subsequent viewing, I respect and enjoy Paul Hyettâ€™s vision even more. And thereâ€™s something new Iâ€™ve noticed â€“ although Hyett never pulls any punches, thereâ€™s more breathing space in the writing than I remembered and (despite some impressive moments of violence and gore) much of â€˜The Seasoning Houseâ€™ is unexpectedly restrained. But hereâ€™s the proviso: when I say I â€˜enjoyâ€™ the film, that word is definitely used advisedly. This isnâ€™t a movie that entertains you and makes you feel good about the world, itâ€™s a movie thatâ€™s dark and gritty and unrelenting and leaves you exhausted and wanting a shower at the end of it. Itâ€™s also an emotionally affecting, strangely lyrical and adrenalin-rushing tour de four that defies you to take your eyes off the screen even for a moment. For me, that was impossible. Iâ€™ve watched â€˜The Seasoning Houseâ€™ three times now, and been hypnotised on every viewing. So whatâ€™s it about? The war torn Balkans, in the late 1990â€™s. Angel is a young deaf-mute who works as housekeeper in â€˜The Seasoning Houseâ€™, a brothel that supplies drugged-up prostitutes to a brutal parade of paramilitary psychopaths. Angel is as much a prisoner as the other girls, but sheâ€™s under the protection of the broodingly charismatic gangster Viktor, who owns The Seasoning House. Angelâ€™s job is to keep the girls drugged, made-up (if dabbing their eyelids and mouths with rouge can be called make-up) and cleaned up, because most of their clients can be very rough indeed. When Angel befriends one of the new girls and then, when the girl is brutally raped and murdered, takes deadly and very messy revenge on the thug who did it, she finds herself being relentlessly hunted through the walls of the house by militia Commander Goran and his men. If Goran finds Angel, Angel will certainly die. And even when Angel manages to escape the house, in a moment that made me want to applaud Angelâ€™s guts and ingenuity, Goran and his pack donâ€™t stop hunting. If anything, Angel leaves the deadly claustrophobia of the house to enter an outside world that is even more deadly and claustrophobic. She has no allies, and Goran is closing in. Rosie Day is extraordinary as Angel. Her performance, entirely without words, is almost all in her face, and behind her eyes. From the opening scene, itâ€™s impossible not to be on her side. Thereâ€™s a dreamlike, slow but fluid quality to Hyettâ€™s direction and the filmâ€™s music and soundscape instantly places us inside Angelâ€™s head, inside Angelâ€™s vulnerability and fear and sadness, but Rosie Dayâ€™s ability to make us empathise with Angelâ€™s scarred innocence, and make us root for Angelâ€™s survival without ever once manipulating our sympathy, is quite amazing. Kevin Howarth, as Viktor, is also a revelation. In other hands, Viktor could have been a cookie-cutter East European gang boss, handsome and menacing but without any nuance. But although we canâ€™t like Viktor, there are enough subtle three-dimensional elements in Howarthâ€™s performance to make his peculiarly twisted affection for Angel, and the quiet panic he feels when Goran and his men arrive, totally believable. Sean Pertweeâ€™s performance as Goran is equally as exceptional. For an actor whose face and voice are so well known, who I normally find almost impossible not to like, he achieves something quite remarkable in the way he disappears so convincingly beneath Goranâ€™s skin. Just like his co-stars, his strength lies in his eyes, in the silence between his words and in his controlled animal ferocity. I could similarly congratulate all the cast and crew but that would be tedious to read. Just know there isnâ€™t a single missed note here, not one second of writing, direction, performance, casting, production design, or musical scoring, that isnâ€™t absolutely correct and effective. If I have one very slight criticism, I wish Paul Hyett hadnâ€™t left in the final coda. Youâ€™ll know what I mean when you see it. Not that itâ€™s a wrong choice, but â€“ personally â€“ Iâ€™d like the movie to have finished just a few seconds earlier than it did. I love horror films, and I donâ€™t like it when people talk about horror as if itâ€™s the black sheep of moviemaking, but although it opened FrightFest 13 I donâ€™t think â€˜The Seasoning Houseâ€™ is a horror film. Itâ€™s a â€˜horrificâ€™ film, certainly. Itâ€™s made all the more horrific because itâ€™s set in a very real and particularly bloody time in the Balkans history (actually filmed in London, but youâ€™d never know it) when Seasoning Houses did â€“ unfortunately, maybe still do â€“ exist. There is no fantasy here. There are no bogeymen with ingenious weapons and self-conscious one-liners. There is no humour to undercut the darkness and make us feel safe. But there is raw emotion and rollercoaster genius and the promise that, with Paul Hyett, British genre cinema is in safe hands. Visit â€˜The Seasoning Houseâ€™. Itâ€™s an uncomfortable and uncompromising experience, but you wonâ€™t regret it.