British film “The Seasoning House” can be seen as a lot of things. It has elements of a horror movie, drama, a revenge thriller, and a dark fairy tale. Set in one of the worst places in the world, it follows a girl’s journey as she evades her captors, villains who deserve a special place in hell. This may sound like another one of those cheap revenge movies where a victim is brutally raped and then spends the rest of the movie brutalizing her captors, but this story is more grounded. There is no exploitation here, only enough depiction of horror to make you root for the heroine when the time comes.
Directed and co-written by Paul Hyett in his directorial debut, the movie tells the story of Angel (Rosie Day), a young girl whose family is murdered in front of her during the war in the Balkan in 1996. Her captors take her and other girls who have suffered a similar fate to a bleak house run by Viktor (Kevin Howarth), a vicious man who forces them into prostitution. To emphasize the point that ye who enter his house should abandon hope, he tells them they should trust him with keeping them safe from outsiders, right before killing one of the girls by slashing her throat.
Yet Viktor is not simply a monster, he is a delusional monster with a tiny heart left somewhere deep in whatever soul he has left. Realizing Angel is deaf and mute, he spares her the fate of the other girls and instead makes her prepare them for his clients. This means injecting them with heroine so they don’t fight back and applying a small dose of makeup so they look as presentable as they can. Viktor grows attached to Angel, telling her everything he does is so that he can leave this place one day. Offering to take her with him, he even gives her what he says is the key to the house, as though it was the key to his heart.
His plans are cut short by the arrival of Goran (Sean Pertwee) and his merry band of war criminals. Goran is here to warn Viktor to stay quiet, as important people are beginning to raise questions about the soldiers’ more “colorful” activities and wonders if Viktor might not have become a snitch. During their tense conversation, Goran’s men are with the girls, which Angel observes through an air vent. Being short and thin, Angel has found a way to crawl unnoticed through the walls of the house. From her hiding place she watches one of Goran’s brute rape and kill the one girl in the house who knew sign language and who had given her a small ray of hope. Having nothing left to lose, Angel crawls out of the wall with a small rusty blade and gives him the last surprise of his life.
In the ensuing battle between Goran’s men and Angel, she does not become a one-woman army who can suddenly kill them all. At all times this girl could die and you see the fear on her face as she dodges the bullets. But Angel is smaller, faster, and can crawl to places the armed killers can only shoot at. When she kills, it is through desperation and the sheer desire to escape her nightmare.
The house itself is a character, with its boarded-up windows, filthy rooms, and dark brown colors. The place reeks of desperation, with very little light coming from the outside world. Once the action does move outside, the setting remains symbolic as clouds continue to block the sunshine from Angel’s life. Freedom is somewhere out there, if she could only reach it.
Rosie Day steals the show as Angel, even though she never says a word throughout the whole movie. The horrors of the house initially render her character emotionally numb, until she meets a friend whose demise bring her to a breaking point. Throughout her journey she experiences loss, despair, fear, horror, and in one very rewarding scene triumph as one of her pursuers meets a very appropriate fate. Then there is the physicality of the role, as Angel has to crawl through walls, run barefoot through the woods, and bash a person’s brain in order to survive.
For his first film Paul Hyett has made a movie that is brutally violent, and all the more horrific because the violence seems frighteningly real, or as real as the filmmakers decided to show. Places like the Seasoning House exist in real life, and are probably much worse than what is depicted on screen.
(“The Seasoning House” is out on DVD and Blu-Ray and is streaming on Netflix.)