The Seasoning House (2012) Dramatic Directorial Debut

Angel
The Seasoning House 2012

In the 2012 film, The Seasoning House, first time director Paul Hyett comes out of his corner swinging with this dramatic directorial debut. The film has been classed as horror, and in most viewers eye it is, but it is more of a tense drama, filled with enough suspense and unease to keep you uncomfortably on the edge of your seat for the duration of the film.

In war-torn Bosnia, a young deaf-mute girl with a strawberry birthmark on her face, sees her only parent brutally shot down by soldiers before she is kidnapped with other girls from her town. She winds up in a brothel run by Victor who, taking a shine to the young girl, keeps her for himself and teaches her how to “maintain” the other girls in the house.

Dubbed Angel by Victor, she goes through her daily routine of giving the unwilling prostitutes heroin and cleaning them up for the next client. When she isn’t with Victor or the girls, she roams the house via the attic and the spaces between the walls and ceiling. She meets a girl that can communicate with her through sign language and the two become friends.

Suddenly the soldiers who killed her mother and kidnapped her show up and everything takes a turn for the worse.

The film is pretty brutal. Thankfully the “rape” scenes are not too graphic and not too many. They are, nonetheless, uncomfortable viewing. All the more so because the film shows just how dehumanised the girls have been made under Victors tutelage. When Angel “snaps” and decides to attempt escape, the picture increases the already potent air of dread.

Rosie Day, who played Angel, was brilliant in the role of the birth marked deaf mute. She was utterly convincing in her isolation and when she “turns” you find yourself cheering her on in her efforts to keep from becoming another victim. Sean Pertwee as Goran, the leader of the soldiers, made a brilliant villain.  His character is the worst of the lot in a film filled with distasteful and horrible people. It was a surprise to see Pertwee as a villain, he usually plays doomed characters who die quite graphically in whatever film he is in.

Sean Pertwee as Goran
Sean Pertwee as Goran

Kevin Howarth played brother owner Victor, and he also did an excellent job as the torn pimp. His character had another level, which made him all the more interesting as well as confusing. The only down side to the film was Pertwee’s accent. I have seen him in other films where his dialect and accent were spot on when playing a non-English role. In The Seasoning House, however it did have a tendency to  “wander.”

Kevin Howarth as Victor

The film was a pleasant surprise, as Hyett held nothing back for his first feature film. It was gripping stuff and there are some scenes near the end of the film that actually made me fell uncomfortable enough to almost stop watching for a moment. I have never been, “claustrophobically” inclined, but at several points my heart-rate increased and I had to “control” my breathing as I watched the action on screen.

This is a real “gut churning” experience that should not be missed. The Seasoning House is currently on UK Netflix and definitely a 4.5 out  of 5 star film. For a dramatic directorial debut, Peter Hyett, manages to hit a home run worthy of Babe Ruth.

Actress Rosie Day
Actress Rosie Day

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28 Weeks Later (2008): Rage Squared

 

28 Days Later

I won’t lie. The main draw for me in this film was Robert Carlyle. I first saw him perform in Cracker he played a mentally unbalanced chap named Albie. He was completely believable in the roll.  I then saw him in the excellent Trainspotting, directed by Danny Boyle, playing the scary Begbie. I became a life long fan as a result of his performances in those two films. So when I saw that he was going to be in 28 Weeks Later, I knew I had to see the film. He was the only reason, because Danny Boyle would not be in the driver seat for this iteration of the Rage saga.

Unfortunately the  small cozy feel  that  28 Days had is gone. It has been replaced with literally  hordes of people. I personally think the film  suffers because of this. It’s scope is wider and encompasses a broader area. These elements along with having a different director, changes the pacing,  feel and  direction of the film.

Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo 28 Weeks Later starts with a couple, Don played by Robert Carlyle and Alice played by Catherine McCormack who are in a fortified farmhouse with four other people.  They are all essentially  trapped  and it appears that the Rage outbreak is alive and well and spreading across the country.

A horde of  infected  break into the house and start attacking everyone.  Don runs to the end of the hallway and climbs out a window.  He jumps down to the ground and looks up to see Alice looking out of the window and screaming for Don to help her. Don is in complete  flight mode, panicked and desperate, he runs to the river outside the farmhouse. Hot on his heels are hordes of infected and their number increases as Don gets near the river. At the river he gets in a motor boat and barely escapes the area.

28 weeks later, all the infected have starved to death. An American NATO task force has been dispatched to England to begin cleaning up the mess and repatriating people who were outside the country when the Rage epidemic swept the country. Alice and Don’s two children, Tammy (Imogen Poots) and Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) are among the first groups to be allowed back into the country. During a medical examination  Major Scarlet Ross (Rose Byrne) notices that Andy has different  one blue eye and one brown eye. Tammy and Andy explain that their mother also had different coloured eyes.
 Tammy and Andy  are reunited with their dad, Don. He lies and tells the children that he saw their  mother die.  Don also explains to the children that he is the head maintenance man for the safe zone and that he can access any area in the building.
Tammy and Andy  decide to sneak out and go to their old house to get some pictures of their Mother. They are seen by a sniper, Sergeant  Doyle (Jeremy Renner) who reports that the children have left the  area.   Once  the two children  get home  they find more than a picture,  they find Mum . Miraculously still alive she has somehow made her way back . Just as Mum and the kids find each other, the Army arrives and takes them all  back to the safe area. All three are placed in quarantine and Mum is separated from the children and has tests done to see if she is infected.
Both Tammy and Andy are furious with Dan and want to know what really happened. Dan is in a state of shock and says that the children have no idea what it like during the outbreak. He then goes to see Alice using his all area pass. Meanwhile Scarlett has discovered that Alice is carrying the virus but is not showing any of the symptoms.
Don enters Alice’s quarantine area and begs her to forgive him for  running away.  Alice  does and they share a kiss. As the saliva comes in contact with his lips, Don is instantly infected. The virus screams through his system and he kills Alice with his bare hands. Don then single handedly sets about infecting the safe zone.
At this point in the film we  sense that, like a house of cards, the safe zone is going to fall apart.  The virus shoots through the facility with the speed and violence of a tornado. Scarlett grabs Tammy and Andy and they make a run for it. Along the way they pick up Sgt Doyle and the small group try to get out of the now infected safe zone.
Throughout the rest of the film Don unrelentingly goes after Andy. I don’t know if this is because he shares his mothers  eye colours  or some other reason. It is never explained in the film. What is apparent however, it that just about every occupant of the safe zone is now infected. Before Doyle gets taken out of the picture by a flame thrower, another sniper  arranges  for a helicopter to collect the small group of survivors.
The film is very well paced, but I felt that Robert Carlyle was the most interesting thing in the film. That is not to say the film isn’t good, it just isn’t as great as the first one.  Losing Danny Boyle meant losing that sharp focus and intense feeling that 28 Days later had in spades.
Still if you are a Carlyle fan, it is worth the time spent watching the film just to see his performance.

Wilderness (2006): Who Let The Dogs Out

 

 

Cover of "Wilderness"
Cover of Wilderness

Directed by Michael J. Bassett (Deathwatch , Solomon Kane) Wilderness is only the second feature film helmed by Bassett. He has stepped up his game with this film. Made for a budget of three million, the film did not make back it’s production cost and only pulled in  just over twenty-four thousand pounds. Which is a shame, because it really is quite a good film.

Wilderness opens in a Juvenile Detention Centre aka Prison.Sean Pertwee is  prison officer  Jed, who is in charge of the young criminals. This disparate group of six lads do not get on well together. Steve (Stephen Wight) is the self proclaimed leader of the boys, his right hand man and enforcer is the hulking but simple Lewis (Luke Neal). Steve makes life miserable for Lindsey (Ben McKay) and Dave (John Travers). Steve especially likes humiliating Dave. A new arrival, Callum (Toby Kebbell) is a tough customer, who is more interested in keeping a low profile, than in challenging Steve for the position of leader.

Steve and Lewis’s campaign of hate against Dave intensifies. Dave cannot  face the abuse any more, and kills himself. Callum makes the discovery when he slips in a pool of blood and traces it back to Dave’s bed. The alarm is raised and Jed deals with the body. The prison Governor comes in to talk to the boys. He is furious that this has happened. He tells Jed to take the lads to the Island and to work them hard.

The island is uninhabited and shared with other prisons who have to book time there. There should only be one group on the island at a time.When Jed and his charges arrive on the island, they begin to set up camp. These are all city lads and they are very uncomfortable camping in the woods. Every noise serves to make the boys nervous and jumpy. They get their campsite  set up and spend their first night uneasy and restless.

In the morning Callum goes down to a river to get the camp water. On his way back he notices what looks like an animal skull stuck on a stick. After examining it he turns to go and is bashed on the head. He falls to the ground unconscious. Jed gets tired of waiting for Callum to return so he gets the lads together to search for him. They find Callum and Jed decides that he must have tripped and fallen. The inmates spend the rest of the day participating in team building activities. Returning to their camp site, they encounter another camp site. As they are supposed to have the island to them selves they decide to investigate.

While Jed is looking into a tent Louise (Alex Reid) shows up and asks Jed what he thinks he is doing. It turns out that the island has been double booked and now has juvenile delinquents from both sexes camping out.  After a short discussion, Jed and Louise decide to share the island. Jed and his six lads are to stay on the east side of the river and Louise and her two charges are to stay on the west. Once Jed and the lads return to the camp, he sends them out orienteering.

Steve and Lewis find yet another person on the supposedly unhabited island, a hermit. They begin to beat the old man up. Later Callum goes to the same place and finds the hermit with his throat ripped out. While Callum is checking to see if the man is alive, Louise’s two girls see him and go back to tell Louise. Callum goes to a stream to wash his bloody hands. Jed and Louise take Callum down and handcuff him, thinking that he has killed the hermit.

The two groups decide to band together and leave the island the next day to contact the authorities. In the morning Jethro goes to collect water for the two groups.When Jethro doesn’t come back Jed sends Blue and Lindsay down to find him. When they get there they discover that Jethro has been killed and hung from a tree. They rush back to the camp and tell everyone about Jethro.

Jed immediately starts trying to get everyone organised when he is struck in the chest with a crossbow bolt. He is shot twice more as he slumps down against a tree. While Louise and Callum try to help Jed, attack dogs are running through the woods to the camp. Callum and Louise get away but not poor Jed the dogs savage him to death.  In the mad scramble to get away from the dogs, Louise goes missing.

The remaining campers now have to keep away from the killer dogs and the mystery person who is shooting the crossbow. They must fight to stay alive and get off the island.

Wilderness boasts a splendid cast. Sean Pertwee, dying as usual in the second reel; Alex Reed, no stranger to horror films (The descent) and Toby Kebbell in a role completely different than the character he played just previously in Dead Man’s Shoes. In fact the casting for the film was brilliant. The youngsters playing the prison inmates sounded exactly how they should. They all seem to have come from London and talked in the ‘gangster’ style that juvenile delinquents favour. The cinematography is crisp and makes the most of the location. The plot is nothing spectacular, but it kept me guessing until the last minute as to who was killing everyone.

I was impressed with Bassett’s second visit to the horror genre. I would recommend this film highly, if for no other reason than to see the excellent performances from the actors. Not to mention the chance to hear what English teen criminals sound like, because they really do talk that way. I know.

The Descent (2005): Girl Power

The Descent is Neil Marshall‘s second foray into the world of horror. Marshall once again wrote and directed the film, which is breathtaking in its execution. Where Marshall’s first film Dog Soldiers featured an almost all male cast (with the exception of Megan and the female camper who is dispatched at the beginning of the film) The Descent is an all female cast (with the exception the main character’s husband, again despatched at the beginning of the film, and some of the creatures in the cavern). It is almost as if Marshall is trying to develop this trend as a sort of trademark to his horror films.

The Descent begins with Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Juno (Natalie Mendoza) and Beth (Alex Reid)  white-water rafting. At the end of the rapids are Sarah’s husband Paul (Oliver Milburn) and their daughter Jessica (Molly Kayll) who wave and cheer at the women as they near the shore. Juno stands up in the raft, arms raised and Sarah laughingly pushes Juno out of the raft into the icy water. Sarah and Beth then take the raft to shore. Sarah gets out of the raft and goes to Jessica. Beth secures the raft to a branch, while Paul helps Juno out of the water. As Beth watches Juno and Paul exchange a look, which to us the audience and to Beth, seems to show that they are more than just friends.

As Paul drives away from the river with Sarah and Jessica, he appears withdrawn and distracted. When he takes  his eyes off the road to talk to Sarah, their car is hit by a mini-van driving towards them. Paul and Jessica both die in the collision. Sarah is hospitalized and goes through a break down moment. Beth is there for her friend, but Juno who has also turned up at the hospital, bursts into tears and leaves without seeing Sarah.

One year later, Beth is driving through the Appalachian mountains with Sarah. Juno has booked a caving holiday for Sarah and a group of their friends. The idea is that this will act as a sort of therapy for Sarah. The group are going to stay in a cabin near the Cavern that they will be exploring the next day.  Sarah and Beth are going to meet with  Juno,  Rebecca (Saskia Mulder), Sam (MyAnna Buring who is turning into a Marshall regular) and Holly (Nora-Jane Noone who also appears in Marshall’s Doomsday) at the cabin.

After a night of disturbed sleep for Sarah, everyone is up bright and early to begin their descent into the caverns. Juno has a map of the caverns and Holly dismisses the whole idea of the trip as being boring since the cavern is a “tourist” cavern. The only thing missing, Holly states, are the stairs and bannisters. The girls descend into the cave and start going through it. As the group take a break for lunch Juno attempts to apologize for not visiting Sarah when she was in the hospital. Sarah is withdrawn and distant.

After lunch, the group proceed further into the cave. They end up going through a very tight space and Sarah gets stuck. Beth helps Sarah through and the space collapses after Sarah gets out.  The group now have no way to go back to the entrance. After an angry discussion, Juno admits that they are not exploring a known cave and that no one knows they have not gone to the cave she should have booked. Juno says that she has done this to help Sarah.

The girls then decide to push forward and look for another exit. They discover cave paintings and old caving equipment which seems to indicate there is another exit. They again push forward looking for more paintings and equipment as “signposts” to the way out. Holly sees light ahead and thinking they have found the exit rushes forward. One of the other girls shouts out that it can’t be another exit so soon and to slow down. Holly ignores her and takes a nasty tumble, breaking her leg.

The girls all climb down to help Holly and put her leg in a splint. While they are giving Holly first aid, Sarah looks around the area they’ve wound up in. She sees someone else in the cave. Thinking them to be more cavers, she shouts for them to help. The other’s in the group are convinced that Sarah, in her stressed state, has been seeing things. As they start to move forward, pasty white creatures attack the group.

The group scatters when the creatures attack. Juno attempts to keep them off of the immobile Holly with a climbing  pickaxe. At the apex of the fight Beth comes up behind Juno to help. Juno, thinking that Beth is another creature, acts instinctively and plants the pickaxe in Beth’s neck. Out of the six women who entered the cave, Holly has had her throat ripped out and Beth is mortally wounded,  the other four are scared and disorganised. The survivors not only have to find their way out of an unknown cave system, but they must also try  to stay alive long enough to do so.

Neil Marshall has made a true gem here. The film starts with a “heart-in-your-throat” moment. Marshall then proceeds to do everything he can to make us jump and squirm in our seats. Right up until the caver’s meet the creatures in the caverns, the claustrophobic  and uncomfortable atmosphere the group was facing  had me gasping for breath. Even if they had never met the creatures, just the suspense of getting though the cave was more exciting than what most other horror films have to offer.

This is one film that falls into that category of  “don’t miss.” Sadly the sequel,which was not done by Marshall, is a pale imitation at best. Although if you saw the original ending of the film, you are probably as confused as I was when I found that a Part 2 was in the mix.

Marshall has definitely given us a film that, quite probably, sets the goalposts for the term “Girl Power.”

Dog Soldiers (2002) Once Bitten…

Written and directed by Neil Marshall (The Descent, Doomsday, Centurion) Dog Soldiers was Marshall’s first feature length film. It has an impressive cast – Sean PertweeKevin McKiddEmma Cleasby and  Liam Cunningham. The film takes place in Scotland and at the beginning of the film we see a man and woman camping in the Highlands. As they are relaxing in their tent, the woman gives the man (played by Marshall regular Craig Conway) a silver letter opener. Soon after the couple are attacked and we presume killed.

The film then moves on to a chase. One man Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd)  is being chased by a group of soldiers. He is soon caught and taken to the ground. The man leading the chase is Captain Ryan (Liam Cunnigham). After Cooper’s capture, Ryan explains that a dog gave Cooper away. This whole event has been Pvt Cooper’s entrance exam for joining the Special Forces.  Captain Ryan tells Cooper that he has done well and that if he wants  to be in the Special Forces he has to be ruthless. Ryan then orders Cooper to shoot the dog that gave him away. Cooper refuses and Ryan shoots the dog himself and returns Cooper to his Regular unit.

Four weeks later Cooper is out on a night-time exercise in the Scottish Highlands. He is part of a six-man squad lead by Sergeant Harry G. Wells (Sean Pertwee). Their mission is to meet up with and train against a squad of Special Forces Soldiers (SAS). When  Cooper and the squad find the  SAS camp, it has been destroyed and  all the occupants killed, except for Coopers “old friend” Captain Ryan. Ryan has been injured.

The squad then take Ryan and head for help. While they are moving out, several shapes in the area are moving around the squad. The shapes start attacking and in the rush, one of the squad is impaled on a tree branch and Sergeant Wells is injured. Cooper fights off Wells’ attacker and the remainder of the squad retreat.

They then bump into a woman in a Land Rover – Megan (Emma Cleasby) who drives them to a farmhouse. Once inside Megan explains that the things that attacked the soldiers were werewolves. Ryan confirms this, when he finally tells the group that the SAS had been sent there to capture one for research. The group then barricade themselves in the farmhouse and prepare to defend themselves until daylight.

This film contains a couple of  ‘firsts‘ not least of which is the fact that Sean Pertwee actually makes it to the end of the film. Pertwee is almost always cast as characters who expire dramatically in the first or second reel of a film. He has been: eaten alive, blown up, decapitated, et al. He is the English version of Michael Ironside. This is also the first film to feature, to the best of my knowledge, werewolves and soldiers as adversaries.

Marshall moves this film along at a great pace. He has also  made an almost perfect blend of the  thriller and horror genres. The casting was spot on. As the audience we love Cooper, hate Ryan, and feel for Wells. All the actors in fact do their roles justice. Emma Cleasby as Megan is at turns, appealing, wistful, attractive and finally scary.

Watching this film you can see why Marshall is a member of the unofficial “Splat Pack,” a term coined by film historian Alan Jones in Total Film magazine for the modern wave of directors making brutally violent horror films. The film is brutal and it is violent, but it also has it’s fair share of irony and humour. This was Marshall’s first time at bat and he knocked it out of the park.

It is plain to see that Marshall has a certain panache when it comes to the genre. His second film,  The Descent makes Dog Soldiers look like a walk in the park in comparison. His third film in what I like to call his “Horror Trilogy” Doomsday  shows a fine tuning of his skills as a story teller and the calibre of his cast reflects this.

I think Marshall may soon be established as the unofficial leader of the “Pack.”