Movie Review: The Seasoning House Ian White June 12, 2013 Editor's Choice, Movie Reviews 2421 Paul Hyett’s masterful directorial debut ‘The Seasoning House’ was the opening film of London’s FrightFest 2012. I was there that night and I hadn’t known what to expect. What I saw was ninety minutes of powerful, brilliant, and occasionally extremely nasty storytelling. ‘The Seasoning House’ blindsided me, and when FrightFest closed four days later it was tied with ‘American Mary’ as my favourite movie of the Festival. That was nine months ago, and now ‘The Seasoning House’ is finally being released to cinemas. Watching it again, my opinion hasn’t changed. If anything, on subsequent viewing, I respect and enjoy Paul Hyett’s vision even more. And there’s something new I’ve noticed – although Hyett never pulls any punches, there’s more breathing space in the writing than I remembered and (despite some impressive moments of violence and gore) much of ‘The Seasoning House’ is unexpectedly restrained. But here’s the proviso: when I say I ‘enjoy’ the film, that word is definitely used advisedly. This isn’t a movie that entertains you and makes you feel good about the world, it’s a movie that’s dark and gritty and unrelenting and leaves you exhausted and wanting a shower at the end of it. It’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. I’ve watched ‘The Seasoning House’ three times now, and been hypnotised on every viewing. So what’s it about? The war torn Balkans, in the late 1990’s. Angel is a young deaf-mute who works as housekeeper in ‘The Seasoning House’, 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 she’s under the protection of the broodingly charismatic gangster Viktor, who owns The Seasoning House. Angel’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 Angel’s guts and ingenuity, Goran and his pack don’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, it’s impossible not to be on her side. There’s a dreamlike, slow but fluid quality to Hyett’s direction and the film’s music and soundscape instantly places us inside Angel’s head, inside Angel’s vulnerability and fear and sadness, but Rosie Day’s ability to make us empathise with Angel’s scarred innocence, and make us root for Angel’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 can’t like Viktor, there are enough subtle three-dimensional elements in Howarth’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 Pertwee’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 Goran’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 isn’t a single missed note here, not one second of writing, direction, performance, casting, production design, or musical scoring, that isn’t absolutely correct and effective. If I have one very slight criticism, I wish Paul Hyett hadn’t left in the final coda. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. Not that it’s a wrong choice, but – personally – I’d like the movie to have finished just a few seconds earlier than it did. I love horror films, and I don’t like it when people talk about horror as if it’s the black sheep of moviemaking, but although it opened FrightFest 13 I don’t think ‘The Seasoning House’ is a horror film. It’s a ‘horrific’ film, certainly. It’s made all the more horrific because it’s set in a very real and particularly bloody time in the Balkans history (actually filmed in London, but you’d never know it) when Seasoning Houses did – unfortunately, maybe still do – 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 ‘The Seasoning House’. It’s an uncomfortable and uncompromising experience, but you won’t regret it.