For any discerning horror fan, Frightfest is the greatest show on Earth. A cornucopia of world, European and UK premieres, the festival offers a journey of genre discovery every August bank holiday weekend in the Nation's capital. It's always a high-quality affair with an eclectic line-up, with opening films that have ranged from the magical (Pan's Labyrinth) to the sublime (Oldboy) to the darn right silly (Black Sheep).
This year's opener might not be the strongest start the festival has seen, but it's certainly one of the most depressing, at least for the first half.
Directed by Brit special effects whizz Paul Hyett (Doomsday, Attack the Block), The Seasoning House is a sordid tale of a Balkan Brothel where girls are kidnapped, imprisoned and forced into prostitution to aid the males of the nearby civilian and military population.
Angel (Day), a deaf mute girl who is also the brothel's imprisoned ‘housekeeper', looks after the girls by pumping them full of heroine and applying eye shadow in preparation for their public service. However, unbeknownst to the brothel's sleazy owner and his equally sordid workforce and clientele, Angel moves freely in the crawlspaces of the house, spying on her tormentors and eventually forming a friendship with one of her fellow captives.
When Angel witnesses a particularly violent attack on her newfound friend, she intervenes, killing a soldier and incurring the wrath of her boss (Howarth) and deranged military man, Goran (Pertwee). What ensues is a claustrophobic game of hide and seek as Angel uses all her cunning in order to escape her captors and her prison.
The Seasoning House's first act is a largely sobering experience as the dank and stifling setting plays host to all manner of sexual violence and humiliation. Incorporating a lot of slow motion, the camera glides throughout the house, revealing Angel's despicable daily routines in painfully detailed fashion. Then, Hyett reveals his real agenda and unleashes his adrenaline-fuelled and ultra violent game of cat and mouse.
The director's own description of the movie as a cross between Martyrs, Pan's Labyrinth and Die Hard, certainly gives you an idea of what's in store, and indeed, The Seasoning House has the emotional punch, the frenzied action and the disturbing qualities of the aforementioned.
But this also means that the film isn't entirely original. We've seen this before and clear influences abound, including the down and dirty exploitation classic, Thriller: A Cruel Picture (which features a mute girl exacting revenge on those that drugged her and forced her into prostitution). The film also includes a playful twist or two similar to another previous Frightfest premiere, Eden Lake.
But what makes The Seasoning House such a memorable and engaging experience, despite the lack of true originality, is its real star of the show, Rosie Day. Sweet, deadly and playful, Angel is brilliant character brought to life in heart-wrenching fashion by the young actress, who adds emotion and heart to this disturbing but thrilling modern rape revenge thriller.
Overall Verdict: A fine central performance from Rosie Day adds heart and emotion to this hard-hitting revenge thriller.
Reviewer: Lee Griffiths