After 10 years of solid revival, the horror scene is slumping again. Too many cheap wannabes, too many hasty rip-offs, some high-profile remakes yet not enough innovation and skill. That doesn't mean it has turned into a complete wasteland though. Once in a while a film surfaces that plays along to the rules, but does it so well it's worth the attention. Enter Paul Hyett's The Seasoning House, a nifty little horror flick that pushes all the right buttons without falling pray to the usual pitfalls.
Even though The Seasoning House is Hyett's first film as a director, he's hardly new to the scene. He's best introduced as the British Tom Savini, a skilled make-up artist turned film director. If you have been following the horror scene you've probably seen his work before, as he's had a hand in just about every UK horror film that mattered the past 10 years. Citadel, Attack The Block, The Children, Eden Lake and of course The Descent are all part of Hyett's resume, not a bad start for someone who wants to direct a horror film of his own.
The Seasoning House takes place during the Balkan war in a secluded whorehouse, far away from the battlefield. Victor, the owner of the house, runs a small but successful covert operation. He kidnaps young women and offers them to soldiers looking for a little fun between battles. Once they've served their purpose, Victor disposes of girls and waits for a new batch.
Angel is Victor's personal aid, a young, mute girl he rescued from the fate of her companions. Angel drugs up the other girls and cleans up after the soldiers have gone about their business, too scared to disobey Victor's orders. Until one day, when a girl who knows sign language is brought into the house. For the first time in a long time Angel is able to communicate with another person directly. She takes a liking to this new girl and gives her an extra hand by making use of the many crawlspaces between the different rooms.
Visually The Seasoning House is definitely above average. Hyett opts for a color palette that's known to work for horror films (muted, brown/red colors for the scenes inside, faded greens and greys for outside), but distinguishes himself with strong and expressive camera work. Some nice slo-mos and nifty camera angles grant the film some additional panache, effectively accentuating the horror and gore. There are a few moments where something is lost in the editing, but overall this is a visually pleasing film.
The soundtrack can be a little generic, but also finds a few moments to shine. For the bigger part the score is comprised of basic horror fare, effective enough to set the mood, but hardly recognisable amidst a pile of similar scores. But there are a few stand-out moments where Hyett brings together visuals and sound to create something extra. It's nothing too special, but it does the job.
The acting is pretty damn good for a film of this calibre, with Rosie Day putting in a strong performance as Angel, while Kevin Howarth and Sean Pertwee go wild as the bad guys. It's a little disappointing to see British actors struggling with Balkan accents in a poor attempt to mimic the Balkan setting, but it's passable considering the extra mile they went for casting a good set of actors to fill in the lead roles.
Having a make-up man directing a film doesn't guarantee a first-class result, but it does guarantee some kick-ass make-up effects. And Hyett doesn't disappoint. There are some gruesomely effective horror effects in here, maybe not as over-the-top as their French counterparts, but just as horrific. Together with the smart camera work this results in strong gore and a solid feeling of tension running through the film. A definite win for any self-respecting horror flick.
The Seasoning House isn't a perfect horror film. It plays things a little too safe and the lack of local actors feels weird, certainly the first half hour, but Hyett delivers a film that works exceptionally well within the confines of the genre. The film doesn't have aren't any glaring weak points either. Great visuals, a decent soundtrack, solid actors and effective horror make it one of the better straight-up horror film to have been released in the past two year.