The Seasoning House is the debut feature from acclaimed British make-up artist Paul Hyett, who was behind the prosthetics and make-up for pretty much every key British genre release over the last ten years – The Descent, Eden Lake, The Children and The Woman In Black to name a few. It also comes with a massive about of buzz from the UK genre scene, not least from the writer MJ Simpson who states “if you have any interest in what horror films can do and say, you owe it to yourself to find a copy and watch it”.
We begin in The Balkans in 1996 in a dark and dingy brothel where a group of girls are being told “whatever life you knew before this has gone”. One of the girls is then brutally murdered in front of everybody by the lead perpetrator as a show of power and dominance for the other girls to obey the rules. At this point we begin to follow the daily life of Angel (Rosie Day) who we learn is deaf-mute, and through a flashback we discover that she was snatched from her home by soldiers and forced to bear witness to the savage murder of her parents.
At the brothel, Angel is spared from the destiny of all the other abducted girls, and instead becomes a favourite of Viktor (Kevin Howarth) who is the controller of the establishment, and who says he will look after her if she looks after his girls. This involves the responsibility of cleaning the blood off them and hiding their bruises in preparation for an impending client, coupled with the repulsive administering of heroin to get them compliant for what they’re about to endure.
At night, Angel discovers that she can explore the brothel unbeknownst to anyone else by moving from room to room via the crawlspace in the walls. It’s through this that she forms a bond with Vanya (Dominique Provost-Chalkley) who is able to sign, and the two begin a friendship that at least offers some light in this brutally grim situation. This burgeoning relationship with Vanya has a flip-side though, and seeing her being put through such relentless abuse begins to affect Angel more than the other girls, as with the others she was at least able to retain an element of distance. If this tested Angel’s resolve, then the arrival of Goran (Sean Pertwee), the man who lead the attack on her village, is about to unleash a fury within her that she is unable to control.
Bleak, desolate, sombre, stark, raw, grim. The Seasoning House conjures a wealth of gloomy adjectives to describe its tone. While these descriptive terms undoubtedly come to the fore, as does bold, brilliant, boundary-pushing, artistic and poetic. The Seasoning House is a difficult film to watch as it could be said that us genre lovers tend to often plump for a horror movie as a means of escapism. The idea of a hoard of zombies attacking a city or a guy in a hockey mask wielding a knife – while tense and thrilling, they’re not scenarios within which reality plays a pivotal role. However, the concept of a brothel in the former Yugoslavia being a hotbed for rape and sex slaves is planted firmly in the reality, and the way it’s presented by Paul Hyett is so devastating that you’ll feel physically drained by the end of it.
Rosie Day as Angel is phenomenal as the deaf-mute Angel, conveying a sense of shattered innocence coupled with her nimble frame that enables the second half of the film to be carried off so plausibly. Sean Pertwee too is perfectly cast as the sadistic Goran whose emergence at the brothel rekindles such horrific nightmares for Angel. To echo MJ Simpson, you DO owe it to yourself to watch The Seasoning House, but while it’s a phenomenal film just be prepared for the endurance of what’s undoubtedly one of the horror films of the year.
8 out of 10