The name may not immediately ring any bells, but if you like a good British horror, you’ll have almost definitely sampled the work of Paul Hyett in the past. Having worked on special effects and make up for the likes of The Descent, Attack the Block and The Woman in Black, this year’s Frightfest opened with his directorial debut The Seasoning House, a film more lyrical and less gore-filled than the SFX background and blood soaked résumé might imply.
Set in the Balkans in 1996, the film documents the grimmest of catch-22s where young girls that manage to survive the brutality of war were then forced into the nastiness of seasoning houses, brothels where girls are beaten and used for sex by pent-up passing soldiers.
A deaf mute girl (played brilliantly by Rosie Day), is orphaned by the conflict and finds herself taken to one such house. She arrives and is named Angel by the knife happy owner of the house, Vicktor (Kevin Howarth). Grasping that she’s unable to hear the desperate pleas of the other girls; he spares her the abuse and instead tasks her with cleaning and preparing the prisoners for visitors. This distance from the girls is soon shattered when a bond is formed that soon sends Angel into far more dangerous waters.
Isolated, sepia-soaked and literally surrounded by death, Hyett creates a Horrible House that Tobe Hooper would be proud of with bedrooms that wouldn’t look out of place in an Eli Roth-run B&B. The subject matter lends itself to difficult moments of violence and rape and make no mistake, The Seasoning House is, at times, a gruelling watch with the film’s final third proving both exhilarating and exhausting as Sean Pertwee enters as the Big Bad Wolf to Angel’s Little Red Riding Hood, bringing with him a team of nasties that includes the wardrobe-sized Ivan – picture Lurch in camouflage.
Part prison film (a brief moment continues the old ‘mouse as a symbol of hope and freedom’ motif à la The Green Mile’s Mr. Jingles), part revenge film and part chase movie, The Seasoning House wears its genre inspirations on its sleeve. Home Alone may not be a direct influence but when Angel begins to uses her surroundings against her enemies, I’d be lying if I said that images of a flower pot flooring Joe Pesci didn’t spring to mind.
Unfortunately, it’s also with inspirations that Hyett’s debut finds itself tripping over. One significant plot development, repeated twice, feels a little unnecessary and bears more than a slight resemblance to the ending of another film that Hyett himself worked on. These minor gripes aside, The Seasoning House a brutal, bold debut that features a final confrontation that is refreshingly more beautiful than bloody.
In the following Q&A Hyett told the Frightfest crowd of the chilling true stories that the film is based on and revealed that The Seasoning House is the first of his planned war trilogy, with each film set to be more devastating than the last. If he’s a man true to his word, brace yourself.