The Seasoning House (Paul Hyett, 2012)
From everything I had heard about it, The Seasoning House was not at all what I was expecting it to be; while I would not call it a great film by any means, I believe that those who are dismissing it as just another torture porn film are giving it short shrift that it doesn’t deserve. In the seventies, it would have been considered a revenge thriller, and it certainly has more in common with I Spit on Your Grave than it does Train or Grotesque. For example, it actually has a plot.
Angel (Sixteen‘s Rosie Day) is a mute girl who has been kidnapped with a number of other girls and taken to the Seasoning House, which seems to be a kind of Serbian version of the Comfort House from World War II-era Japan. Dimitri (Blood and Bone China‘s David Lemberg), chief pimp in residence, takes a shine to Angel and keeps her apart from the prostitutes, instead giving her a job cleaning the place and “preparing” the girls. She is pragmatic enough to know she’s not getting out, so she resigns herself to her fate until two things happen in quick succession: first, a new shipment of girls contains Vanya (Britannia High‘s Dominique Provost-Chalkley in her first feature appearance), who knows sign language and thus can communicate with Angel better than anyone else in the house, and second, the band of mercenaries who killed Angel’s mother and kidnapped her, led by the sadistic Goran (Event Horizon‘s Sean Pertwee), stop over for a bit of R&R. Suddenly, Angel finds herself both with something to fight for and an opportunity for revenge…
The first half of the movie—the setup for the big Revenge Thriller set piece that comprises the second half (no, you shouldn’t be thinking 13 Assassins here, as amusing as the idea is)—is actually really impressive. Hyett, who co-wrote, takes the time to set up his characters and the often-fragile dynamics between them, at least his main characters. Then comes the second half of the movie, and I can think of at least a half-dozen things to compare it to…all of which do it better. I saw one wag on the IMDB message board say that the second half was like an adult version of Home Alone, and s/he’s not too far wrong; my thinking was a blocky, pixellated Boarding Gate. In other words, thought in the first half and action without thought in the second, and the end result is that it’s a pretty tough sell for both cerebral thriller fans and action fans because of the abrupt shift in tone. But whichever half of the movie you find appealing, that half of it should make the other half at least bearable for you. The easily-triggered should be warned that the movie contains a few scenes of violent sexual abuse. ** ½