11th Dec2014

MonsterFest 2014: ‘Pernicious’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Ciara Hanna, Emily O’Brien, Jackie Moore, Russell Geoffrey Banks, Byron Gibson, Jared Cohn, Wallop Terathong, Sara Malakul Lane, Irada Hoyos | Written by James Cullen Bressack, Taryn Hillin | Directed by James Cullen Bressack

pernicious-4

Pernicious (adjective), definition:

  1. causing insidious harm or ruin; ruinous; injurious; hurtful: pernicious teachings; a pernicious lie.
  2. deadly; fatal: a pernicious disease.
  3. Obsolete. evil; wicked.

Never has there been a film that so clearly lived up to its dictionary definition as James Cullen Bressack’s Pernicious. The film sees three beautiful girls arrive in Thailand to teach English and have a summer filled with adventure but none were prepared for what awaited them. Their nightmare begins when they trio pick up three strangers in a bar; three strangers who disappear with (seemingly) the girls jewelery and a golden statue that was left to rot in the attic, leaving behind only gore-filled dreams that haunt the girls sleep. However their situation becomes worse once they realize it’s not WHAT is haunting them but WHO: an eight-year old girl, brutally murdered and sacrificed by her family decades ago, now encased within the gold statue and seeking revenge… and her freedom!

Even though it was filmed on location in Thailand, Pernicious is easily the most “Hollywood” of Bressack’s productions. Gone are the days of ultra low-budget shaky-cam indie films and in comes a more accomplished filmmaker at the height of his game, gleefully marrying cliches of the genre with his own unique, some might say over the top, style. Whereas 13/13/13 and the recent Blood Lake had (reasonably) decent budgets, they still looked like the types of indie production Bressack was known for – here he takes his directorial style to the next level, making a movie that actually looks cinematic rather than DVD-friendly. That’s no doubt down to Bressack and his DP, Seo, who together create what is easily Bressack’s most beautiful movie – hell, they even manage to make the gore look good!

This not only looks like a Hollywood production, it also echoes a number of previous big-budget genre films, including Hostel and the US-made, Far East-inspired The Ring and The Grudge. However Bressack manages to play with the tropes of those flicks, often turning the conventions on their head and give them a new spin – after all, we’ve all seen plenty of pretty women tortured in gory fashion by evil maniacs bent on enjoying their victims slow deaths but to see the reverse? That’s where Bressack, and by extension Pernicious, come into their own. OK, so maybe Bressack’s script falls into familiar territory come the final third – after all, if the girls don’t act like idiots and investigate what’s going on instead of running away as fast as they can, there’d be no ending to the movie; but for the most part Bressack the writer, and Bressack the director, manage to not follow genre conventions too much.

Of course those, like myself, who have seen the entire breadth of Bressack’s [officially] released work know that he is not a director to shy away from the grue and gore; and nowhere is that more evident that in Pernicious. Packed with scenes of gore, including throat-slashing, prolonged tooth and nail torture, multiple tongue removals and an amazing eyeball gouging, there’s a reason the effects are so effective – Bressack insisted on hiring the man behind the FX in the August Underground movies: ToeTag’s Jerami Cruise. And that decision really pays off. Belying the low-budget nature of the film, the effect are, for the most part, all practical and all stunning. The effects work is a million miles away from the CG-filled horror of Bressack’s previous efforts 13/13/13 and Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lampreys, that’s for sure.

Despite being set in the vast wilderness of Thailand (something the director and DP make the most of), This film is, at its core, a very small film. And that’s where Bressack’e experience in indie film making shines: he knows who to cast in his movies and how to get the best performance out of them. Pernicious stars three, not only beautiful, but also talented actresses: Jackie Moore, Ciara Hanna (who also appears in Bressack’s Blood Lake), and Emily O’Brien. And all three essentially carry the movie on their shoulders, each sharing screen time and each holding their own. When they have to be strong they are, when they have to be afraid they are, and when they have to slice three guys into pieces? Well they do it well and they do it in style… It’s a testament to each actress that even in the films more “out-there” moments they all manage to keep their performances believable – well apart from not pissing off from that creepy Thai house the very first chance they had!

As a fan of James Cullen Bressack it great to see him produce something as accomplished as Pernicious; in fact I think this might be my favourite Bressack flick yet. Plus, taking a step back from being a Bressack fanboy, as a horror fan it’s actually great to see a brand new story being told – we’ve had Far Eastern folklore, we’ve had traditional Western folklore, but Thai folklore? That’s not something we see on the big (or little) screen that often, if at all. It’s a win-win situation all round in my opinion.

***** 5/5

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