Directed by Paul Hyett
Well-known special effects guru Paul Hyett makes his directorial debut with the harrowing The Seasoning House. Set in the war-torn Balkans, the story follows a young deaf-mute girl (Day) who is orphaned and kidnapped by soldiers leading an indiscriminately violent raid on her home village. Sold off for prostitution at a shady brothel run by the quietly vicious Viktor (Howarth), the girl, nicknamed Angel by her new ward, is spared the cruel fate reserved for the other abducted girls and instead is enlisted as Viktor’s personal partner and assistant.
When guests arrive, Angel is tasked with preparing the girls for their “duties” – cleaning them of the dirt and blood left from previous encounters with the house’s patrons and shooting them up with intravenous drugs in order to induce physical numbness and compliance. At night, Angel secretly travels the confines of the brothel utilising the crawlspaces between the walls – an activity that allows her to develop a strong bond with one of the brothel’s newest acquisitions, Vanya (Provost-Chalkley). As the customers’ regular abuse of Vanya reaches near-fatal levels of brutality, Angel is spurred into violent action to protect her friend – and when the very squad of soldiers who abducted her and murdered her family (led by a dominating Sean Pertwee as Goran) arrive to avail of Viktor’s services, there’s no going back as the violence quickly escalates.
Somber and affecting, The Seasoning House is not light entertainment, nor an easy watch. Hyett’s direction is measured, confident, and darkly poetic throughout, weaving an emotional web of tenderness amidst hopelessness and abuse. The cast are stellar – newcomer Rosie Day is a revelation as Angel: Stripped of the ability to express herself through words, Day’s performance is a master class in physical nuance, body language, and expression. The character’s affliction is also very well utilised by Hyett for the generation of tension, especially in the climactic battle and final act.
The Last Horror Movie’s Kevin Howarth demonstrates just how underrated an actor he is with his multi-layered rendition of Viktor – at times malevolent and ruthless, his fondness for Angel is always apparent even as he continues to assert his dominance through fear, threats, and outright lies. A tight script sees some of the best character work present itself upon the arrival of Pertwee’s Goran. A man brooding with sheer monstrosity, his coiled spring performance seeing Viktor suddenly removed from his Alpha status, with an unfinished history between the two men readily apparent without the need for extended exposition.
With the arrival of the third act, The Seasoning House deftly shifts from the slow, melancholic presentation of the earlier scenes to a more standard survival-action delivery as the narrative switches to that of a stalk-and-chase thriller. This is by no means a terribly bad thing, however – in fact, it’s testament to Hyett’s skills behind the camera that such a shift occurs without jarring in any way. A slightly disappointing finale sees the story end on a somewhat unfulfilling note (let’s say that just desserts aren’t served up as pleasingly as one would hope), but it fails to detract substantially from the superlative strength of all that comes before. The Seasoning House is a lyrical, bleak, and deeply wounding exploration of brutality and inhumanity that cries out to be seen, though some very harsh scenes of violence and rape should see those of a sensitive disposition tread lightly.
4 out of 5