One of the key ingredients to any successful revenge flick is having a truly repellent antagonist. After all, setting up an especially detestable villain that the audience can quickly grow to hate, only makes our hero's eventual retribution that much sweeter. Though otherwise problematic, 'The Seasoning House' does at least have that much going for it. I mean, bad guys don't get much more reprehensible than sex traffickers and brutal rapists. A disturbing, gory, and grimy exercise in violent horror and suspense, the movie offers an unsettling yet occasionally gripping experience. The gruesome sexual content and blood soaked set pieces can be excessive and exploitative, character development is sparse, and the script has some third act plotting issues, but for those who can stomach the abuse, the film offers a relatively satisfying tale of bloody vengeance.
After her family is murdered by corrupt military soldiers, Angel (Rosie Day), a young deaf mute girl, is imprisoned in a house of prostitution. There she is forced to care for the enslaved women who all suffer vicious abuse and mistreatment. But when the same militia who was responsible for her capture returns to the brothel, Angel is given an opportunity for revenge. Using her small size to move through the air ducts and crawl spaces, she attempts to evade and attack her tormentors, hoping to give them a taste of their own cruelty.
Through dark, dirty, grimy, and disturbing visuals, director Paul Hyett immediately establishes an intentionally unpleasant aesthetic that pulls no punches when depicting the imprisoned women's dire circumstances. Early scenes are used to highlight Angel's regular routine, as she moves from room to room cleaning up the battered prostitutes and administering them drugs to keep them complacent. These sequences are not easy to watch and unfortunately there are times when this unpleasant content lacks the emotional weight necessary to justify its inclusion, making several stretches feel shamefully exploitative. With that said, there is some merit in Hyett's visual direction, and the movie's style is home to a dreary, dreamlike cadence with lots of slow motion movements that give many sequences a hazy, nightmarish rhythm.
Some periodic flashbacks are also thrown in, briefly filling us in on Angel's backstory, but sadly, these elements are mostly underdeveloped and glossed over. On a more positive note, however, the film's impressive young star, Rosie Day, is actually quite compelling as the story's traumatized heroine. Through facial expressions alone, the actress is able to evoke all the character's pain and determination, and she does a great job of enhancing the film's emotional weight -- which is especially noteworthy because the script is disappointingly light on actual development. More of a visceral tale of revenge and horror than a traditional narrative, the script is a bit thin and lacking when it comes to actual plot and character beats. Instead, the runtime essentially becomes a gory cat and mouse game between Angel and her monstrous attackers, and this strategy has mixed results.
Filled with a more than healthy assortment of bloody carnage and a somewhat inspired tactic that involves Angel using the house's crawlspaces and ducts to evade and trap her enemies, the movie's later scenes offer a fair amount of tension and horrifying imagery. With that said, the gory kills and unsettling depictions of rape and brutality can be excessive, and a little restraint may have actually given the film more power. And while the action in the house is fairly gripping, there are some notable lapses in logic, and once we leave the film's central location the script starts to lose momentum and we're treated to a rather ridiculous coincidence that is incredibly hard to buy.
'The Seasoning House' is not an easy film to watch, and at times its disturbing content and ugly depictions of violence against women are very hard to bear or justify. Still, director Paul Hyett's questionable approach to the gruesome material is not altogether tasteless, and there is genuine craft in the suspense and action. The screenplay's plotting is incredibly shallow and the movie's character development is almost nonexistent, but fans of dark, gory revenge flicks might admire the film's visceral thrills -- but be warned, the controversial and graphic material is not for the squeamish.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Well Go USA brings 'The Seasoning House' to Blu-ray on a single BD-25 disc housed in a keepcase with a cardboard slipcover. After some skippable trailers the screen transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates the release is region A coded.
The film is presented in a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. With an intentionally grimy and ugly style, the video offers a fitting aesthetic, but there are some technical issues here and there.
The digital source is relatively clean but banding/false contouring is visible in some scenes, particularly in dark backgrounds and transitions. Likewise, there are other minor signs of compression apparent as well. Thankfully, the majority of the presentation is decently rendered and these issues aren't terribly distracting. Clarity is solid, but the movie has a deliberately hazy quality in several sequences. Still, detail in close-ups can be quite impressive, revealing every battered pore and bead of sweat on the characters' dirty faces. The picture has a undersaturated look that favors dreary yellows, greens, and browns, and some outdoors scenes offer a comparatively cool palette. With that said, there are splashes of vibrancy, with some bold reds (blood, of course). Contrast is appropriately stylized and blacks remain steady.
'The Seasoning House' doesn't have a traditionally pretty picture, but outside of some sporadic artifacts, the transfer is solid and the style works very well with the disturbing content.
The movie is provided with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track and a Dolby Digital 2.0 track along with optional English SDH subtitles. Moody and immersive, the mix does a good job of surrounding the audience in Angel's dark and unsettling world.
Speech is clear and well prioritized throughout. The film's eerie and foreboding score is spread nicely with strong presence and separation. Creepy ambient effects fill the front and rear soundstage as well, offering appropriate directionality that sends creaking floorboards, ominous footsteps, and slamming doors all around the room. Gunshots and explosions also make their way into the proceedings and though bass activity is a little muted, these sounds have solid weight. Balance between all of the elements is handled well, and as a whole the sound design works well to create a hostile and unsettling atmosphere.
'The Seasoning House' is a violent and disturbing exercise in horror and revenge, but its controversial use of exploitative violence and rape is questionable, and the script is lacking on several fronts. Still, there is some admirable craft here and certain stretches are effectively gripping and tense. The video transfer has some minor issues but is solid overall, and the audio mix enhances the movie's creepy tone well. While we only get one supplement, the included making of doc is actually really interesting. The film's graphic gore and unsettling sexual content will likely put off many audience members, but fans of other gruesome thrillers might want to check this out. Though, even then, potential viewers are better off renting it first.