Opening FrightFest 2012 The Seasoning House prompted one of the most controversial Q and A questions from the crowd I had ever heard in my time at the legendary London horror festival.
Stepping up to the mic facing a stage on which stood The Seasoning House’s director and writer Paul Hyett as well as the main two stars Sean Pertwee and Rosie Day one irate and incensed member of the audience declared straight out “I found the film unconvincing will you be re-cutting it?”
Shocking both the amassed members of the cast and poor Paul Hyett who responded by saying “I don’t know what to say to that” this FrightFest fan’s frank and direct question all be it uncouthly asked does uncover the central issue with The Seasoning House a film of two halves starting out as a grim and brutal exploration of gender politics and human degradation which looses its power and conviction midway through when it almost becomes a straight up stalk and slash movie.
Set in the Balkans in 1996 deaf mute Angel (Rosie Day) is forced to work in The Seasoning House a squalled home of horrors where young girls are enslaved and sold to men willing to pay to treat them as brutally and badly as they like.
Although disgusted by her life and role drugging the girls and preparing them for their vicious visitors Angel is protected by pimp Viktor (Kevin Howarth) who runs the house keeping her safe.
All this changes however when some of Viktor’s ex-army buddies arrive lead by Goran (played by Pertwee) looking for a good time and some answers from their old friend. As the sadistic soldiers gain their pleasure through inflicting pain on the prostitutes Angel realises she can remain in the shadows no longer and decides to try and save her friends and herself from the terrible life they have been forced to live.
Due to its subject matter and unflinching eye which is held wide open to the disturbing and disgusting treatment of the young sex slaves trapped in The Seasoning House the film is heavy going at first. Shot with dreamlike slow motion scenes and an extremely evocative score the film appears like some drug fuelled nightmare which we are unable to escape.
In Angel’s world shaped by war and violence men are abusers and women are victims and there seems no hope or end in sight. Although she may not hear or speak she definitely see’s evil all around her living like a rat moving through the building between the walls and crawlspaces.
Day’s central performance is excellent especially as this is her first feature and she never overplays Angel evoking our sympathy from the start serving as the filter through which we see the events unfolding.
It is in its second act that the problems appear as The Seasoning House shifts from horrific realism to an almost rape revenge plot line with Angel extracting her bloody retribution against the soldiers popping out of unexpected air vents and taking them out one by one Die Hard style.
Although the intent, reasoning and lead up to the movies move towards action slasher makes sense it does not entirely work and although during the film you feel caught up in the flow of Angel’s revenge in retrospect it is incongruous and lessens the impact of the first half tying the random ugly realism up in an all too perfect knot.
To bring it all back to the discourteously direct statements from FrightFest is the film unconvincing and should it be re-cut?
The answer is no to both as The Seasoning House is a very well made horror exploring an unsettling setting and very real themes of gender politics that are often left untackled in other movies.
However Hyatt should learn a lesson from his first feature and try to perfect the balancing act of brutality or suffer not only losing the power and impact he has tried so hard to create but also more uncomfortable questions next time he visits FrightFest.
Read our interview with The Seasoning House director Paul Hyett Here