Thursday, 5 March 2015


Director James Cullen Bressack has been the subject of some unwanted publicity recently with the shocking move by Britain's film certification body, the BBFC, to ban his new title, Hate Crimes.
Whether you agree with censorship or not, the BBFC's decision is massive news. What some of you may not realise, however, is that this is not Bressack's first foray into the genre.
One of his more highly regarded efforts is Pernicious, a title I was fortunate enough to receive an online screener for recently.
Could this Thailand-based tale of terror pack a video nasty-esque shock too?
Read on...


Dir: James Cullen Bressack
Starring: Emily O'Brien, Jackie Moore, Ciara Hanna, Russell Geoffrey Banks, Byron Gibson, Sohanne Bengana, Wallop Terathong, Jack Prinya, Irada Hoyos

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I’ll try not to spoil too much here but read on at your own risk.

American travellers Julia (O'Brien) and sisters Alex (Hanna) and Rachel (Moore) are looking forward to an en experience of a lifetime when they arrive in Thailand to teach English to local children.
As the girls drop their things off they explore their very old and decidedly flush lodgings. At first it seems pretty cool, until they discover a creepy, life-size golden statue of a little girl in the attic. Yikes.  
Later they decide to treat themselves to a boozy night out they bump into British tourists Colin (Banks), Byron (Gibson) and Vlad (not the most British of names, played by Bengana) and spend the evening together. When Alex and Rachel want to take the boys back to their place Julia is reluctant at first, but finally acquiesces. As the party continues, the girls naively drink from Colin’s hip flask and find the room spinning before they pass out.
That night they are all plagued with vivid, disturbing nightmares in which they brutally torture the men to death. When they awake the following morning the men are gone along with all their jewellery… and the statue of the little girl.
As the girls try to piece together the events of the missing evening, things take an even more sinister turn when they start to find themselves haunted by a mysterious little girl (Hoyos).
What did happen on that fateful night? Why does their creepy elderly neighbour (Terathong) and his nurse (Prinya) keep turning up at their door? And what is the story behind the enigmatic statue?

BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Before I watched Pernicious, I’d heard it likened to a cross between Eli Roth’s Hostel and Takashi Shimizu’s The Grudge. As a fan of both of these films — albeit to varying degrees — this was enough to get me onside early on… and thankfully, these comparisons are actually pretty apt. The strongest scenes are ones at opposite ends of the horror spectrum — the torture p0rn-style gory nightmare sequence in which the girls bloodily dispose of the British men and the more psychological, creepy, spirit stalking scenes at night in which of the girls is visited by the relentless, gold-plated Vanida.
It was these scenes, plus the way in which the film revelled in and made full use of its beautifully exotic setting that felt a lot like some of my favourite Far Eastern films, most notably Ju-On or the criminally underrated Shutter. The camerawork is superb and really captures the feel of Thailand. In fact, the production values throughout are really very good indeed, the film doesn't have that grubby quality present in so many other indie horror flicks that float my way — credit must go to Bressack and cinematographer Seo Mutarevic for their sterling work.
Bressack also deserves Kudos for the story, which he penned. The plot is intricate without ever becoming overly complicated. It has a unique mythos and never breaks its own rules. What could have felt like a lot of jumbled concepts thrown together (torture p0rn, hauntings and possession in just 90 minutes!) has a controlled flow and always seems focused. This can be a tough thing to balance and, aside from a couple of exposition-dump moments involving the elderly neighbour and his nurse and a rather off local shaman, the story is very well told. Furthermore it sets out to horrify, wilfully embracing the darkness of the subject matter to create a true HORROR film.
Of course, visuals and a decent story can still fall flat if the cast aren't up to the task of telling it — thankfully, Pernicious has an excellent array of acting talent on display.
The three lead girls fall well into the roles, giving each their own distinctive personality. There's no denying that all three are stunning to look at but thankfully they are all capable and talented actresses. O'Brien is the one with whom we instantly identify and she acts as the audience surrogate for a lot of the film. While the two sisters have each other, O'Brien's only link to her life at home is the odd skype chat with boyfriend Shane (played by Jared Cohn). Sure Moore's fiery Rachel and Hanna's flaky Alex are more fun, but it is O'Brien's Julia who is the most sympathetic. Excellent work.
This isn't to say that the others are slouches — far from it!
Moore is wonderfully spiky and bristles with a sarcastic confidence. She is given most of the best lines in the script and she totally nails her delivery of them. She has also mastered the all-too rare art of convincing 'drunk' acting!
Hanna's is the more complicated role, growing in prominence as the movie progresses. She is almost too cute as the ditzy fun member of the group, but shows a decidedly darker edge in other scenes in which she is just as convincing. I expect she will go a very long way.
Of course it isn't just our English speaking leads who knock it out of the park. The elderly Sang (played by the truly magnificently monickered Wallop Terathong) brings a really authentic gravitas and pathos to his performance. In a role that could very easily have been dismissed as 'generic creepy old bloke', Terathong's authenticity was refreshing and made the character legitimately interesting. The same can be said for Sang's nurse (Prinya) who had to shoulder the bulk of the heavy lifting when it comes to exposition, not least because he acts as translator for Sang too. When expected to deliver plenty of dialogue (including some offscreen work during the dark and disturbing flashback sequence) delivery is everything and Prinya's is great.
I mentioned the hellishly unsettling flashback sequence, and it one that really does deserve further praise. From the gritty black and white camerawork, to the angst-filled performances and the impressive use of light and shade to suggest some truly horrific events, this is a grim but brilliant sequence.
It is this willingness to go to some truly dark places and not shy away from presenting the grotesque that really elevates Pernicious above the bulk of genre efforts nowadays. The gruelling torture sequence is every bit as disgusting, gory and sadistic as the likes of the Hostel movies. The effects are all practical throughout the scene too, so my heartiest congratulations go to the effects team of Jerami Cruise and Anthony Julio for such top work. Well done fellas!

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): There are very few missteps in Pernicious, but sadly there are a couple.
First, as a Londoner, I know what Londoners sound like. While Banks is a Brit, I found his OTT accent more than a little off-putting at times. It just needed to be reined in a little. When he was given more emotional lines (such as during the torture scene) he was awesome and utterly believable so it's annoying that his earlier scenes were marred in this way.
Second, while I was quick to praise the acting talents of the three leads earlier, they were definitely less impressive with the physical side of things. At a couple of points there are some tussles and violent struggles and, unfortunately, these rarely came across as convincing. At one key point in the film it pulled me out of what was an important moment, which was a real shame. Thankfully they account for themselves so well during the rest of their screentime so this can be forgiven.
On a similar note, while the vast majority of the dialogue and camerawork is awesome, every now and then the film just felt a little clunkier. I imagine this comes from limited resources and only having enough time and money for a certain number of takes, so it perhaps acts as a better compliment that these moments are pretty rare and, for the most part, there are no such issues.
Finally a couple of minor spoiler niggles. So, what was with the silly witch stuff? I get that the shaman was the other half of the dynamic exposition duo with Uncle Sang, but while the Sang stuff felt (moderately) organic, this bargain-basement, Thai Haggis from Pumpkinhead ripoff just felt glaringly out-of-place and, well, a bit daft. The look of the character was very cheap Halloween costume and, ultimately, she didn't really serve that much of a purpose to the story. It's a pity, because, given a bit of a polish, this character could have been a very cool bit of colour in the story. Oh well.
Finally, as the film nears its conclusion it actually loses a little of its fright-power. When the girls are stalked by the creepy Golden Girl (no, not Bea Arthur) it seemed to really hit its stride, but when the plot progressed to a different menace (I'm trying to keep this vague here) I felt it lost some punch. In part this came down to the abruptness of the shift (it might have benefited from a little more foreshadowing) but, while it became far more personal and character-based it lost that creepy air of the unknown. It isn't a disappointing conclusion by any stretch and — most importantly — it actually makes sense, it's just that it doesn't quite hit the highs of the top torture, haunting and flashback sequences. Perhaps Bressack spoiled me a little with these genuinely great scenes. 

THE VERDICT: Pernicious was a real blast. It manages to effectively combine Eastern and Western horror, showcases a great-looking and talented cast, tells one hell of a dark and disturbing story but, most importantly, it didn't forget to bring the scary when it mattered. There are a couple of teensy issues but this is an easy recommendation for me. Check it out!

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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