When the line-up was announced for this year’s Film Four FrightFest, ‘The Seasoning House’ struck me as a rather odd choice as an opening movie. This was entirely due to the fact that the film hadn’t as yet presented so much as a flicker on my radar. All became clear however when I discovered that ‘The Seasoning House’ is the directorial debut of UK horror stalwart Paul Hyett, a man whose work should be familiar to even the casual genre fan.

Hyett’s previous credits include special makeup effects and prosthetics for such faves as ‘The Descent’, ‘Eden Lake’ and ‘The Woman in Black’. With such a pedigree behind the lens, expectations for the fx guru’s directorial debut are naturally high.

‘The Seasoning House’ gets off to a promising start, setting the action against the bleak backdrop of the war-torn Balkans during the mid-1990s. It’s in this turbulent world that we’re introduced to the character of Angel (Rosie Day), a deaf-mute girl who finds herself orphaned following the ruthless slaughter of her family. Angel now ekes out her days imprisoned in a dingy, dilapidated brothel presided over by imperious pimp Viktor (Kevin Howarth). It is perhaps a meagre crumb of comfort to her that, unlike the other girls, Angel is not pimped out to the passing soldiers but rather handles the task of sedating the girls in preparation for their “customers”.

A brief crack of light in this perpetual darkness comes when she’s befriended by Vanya, a young girl who can speak sign-language and in doing so provides Angel with some much-needed companionship. But even this meagre comfort is destroyed with the arrival of Goran (Sean Pertwee), one of her family’s executors, and his band of not-so-merry men. Having witnessed the brutal rape and murder of Vanya at the hands of one of Goran’s men, Angel exacts a bloody revenge on the culprit and in doing so precipitates a ferocious game of cat-and-mouse which is sure to leave many more bodies in its wake.

The premise for ‘The Seasoning House’ is an interesting one, but it becomes clear around the halfway mark, if not earlier, that the film isn’t particularly concerned with exploring any of the themes it raises with any real depth. This is shame since the setting of the turbulent Balkans in the mid-1990s is one that carries with it a good deal of potential. Unfortunately, any such potential is all but squandered as the atmosphere of the first act gives way to tedious scenes of gratuitous sexual violence and carnage.

Now don’t get me wrong – this writer has subjected himself to his fair share of guts and gore and much more besides over the years (I am after all the man who recently purchased the DVD trilogy of a series entitled ‘Violent Shit’!). Indeed, I’m not even against the idea of a film pushing the boundaries of decency just for the sake of it. My problem with ‘The Seasoning House’ is that it presents itself as something more than the mere sum of its parts. The rape and splatter which dominate the latter half of the movie come in the wake up a set-up which promises something a little more subtle and meditative. Consequently, the end result is a bit of a letdown.

That said, ‘The Seasoning House’ is clearly not without its merits. The cast do well with the difficult subject matter and Rosie Day, whose character essentially carries the weight of the film on her shoulders, is particularly strong in the lead role. As you’d expect from a movie directed by a makeup effects wiz, the gore sequences are all top notch and handled with undeniable skill. I look forward to seeing where director Paul Hyett goes next – here’s hoping that his sophomore effort will serve up the blood and guts with a little more brains.

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