I never like to mince words on what I think of any particular film or DVD, and, under most circumstances, THE SEASONING HOUSE is one of those flicks I can take or leave. At its core, it’s a revenge picture (of sorts) where the lead character finds herself trapped in the black market of cold, cruel exploitation – sex trafficking – but, to its credit, it stylistically tries to be something a bit more: a kinda/sorta character study through flashbacks of how one young victim found herself forced into sexual slavery where presumably anything goes. The sad part is that on that character front it isn’t really all that effective, and that somewhat lessens the impact of its central theme: sex without consequence doesn’t exist any longer.
However, at all times, THE SEASONING HOUSE is indeed brilliantly crafted, an impressive work culled together by director Paul Hyett.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or character. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Angel (played with great conviction by a promising Rosie Day) is a young mute who finds herself orphaned by the war-time conflict raging in her unnamed homeland. Against her will, she finds herself throw aboard a truck and carted off to a nearby hotel, where the manager Viktor becomes smitten with her youthful, innocent charms. Realizing she could never survive as one of his house prostitutes, he instead takes her aboard as someone to serve as a ‘caretaker’ to the girls, helping to make them ready for the vile sexual torture they’re about to endure (which basically amounts to shooting them up with drugs). However, Angel eventually befriends one of the captured ladies, and this forces her to re-examine her past and present while secretly plotting her escape for the future.
THE SEASONING HOUSE shares an awful lot with traditional exploitation films of the late 1970’s and early 80’s. It posits a world where sex is used as currency as well as punishment for burly, rough, uncaring men. All the women featured are lost in some state of victimhood while only one – Angel – has the key (literally) that could deliver her freedom. The problem? She doesn’t have the courage to use it until it’s almost too late.
Hyett directs from a script that he helped craft (he’s sharing credit with Conal Palmer), and therein may lie the problem with HOUSE: there’s an awful lot of it that doesn’t make much literal sense. I believe his explanation may aesthetically be that greater specificity isn’t central to the story being told, but the ongoing lack of clarity kept forcing me to question just what was going on. For starters, “when” are we? Is this the past? Is it some glimpse at a possible tomorrow? There’s part of me that suspects both possibilities – never a good perspective to be in as a viewer – because the environment offers up clues for either supposition. However, the men are soldiers who’ve apparently overrun another country; these men speak in heavy Russian accents, but, one more than one occasion, they’re shown paying Viktor in U.S. dollars. How would they get those? Is this supposed to be Amerika being occupied by an invading army? If so, why do the invaders speak English to one another? Why don’t they converse in their native language?
Also, who in the name of Sam Hill designed this house? One of the story’s conceits is that there’s ample crawlspaces between these rooms in order for Angel to secretly make her way around without drawing Viktor or his guard’s attention. That’s all well and good, but, by the end, one starts to wonder why it is there’s so much living space behind the walls as opposed to in front of it. I understand that, to some degree, this was only intended to be a plot device; still, all plot devices need to have some logic behind their creation, and this one really made me question whether a legitimate architect or builder made this house … or was it designed by a pair of screenwriters?
I realize that some of these questions may have answers that rely on the business demands, breaking that wall into the real world outside (ours) – perhaps for purposes of insuring the best business it was easier to avoid producing a foreign language picture – but because these narrative conflicts kept popping up again and again and again they ended up screaming out in places when they shouldn’t have. They end up ‘distracting’ when they should have been an organic part of the story, and I can’t help but wonder if this was the necessary quirks of a first-time director (HOUSE is Hyett’s debut directing gig).
What’s entirely impressive, nonetheless, is the job the director does in putting the pieces of his story together. As a thriller, it’s mostly effective. There are some solid sequences that play nicely (and a bit gruesomely) into the experience. Instead of watching this one again (ever), I’d be more inclined to see what Hyett can do with a more accomplished script. Same thing for Day. They showed up to play, and I’d love to see what they can do with a project given ample pre-production attention.
THE SEASONING HOUSE (2012) is produced by Sterling Pictures, Templeheart Films, and Filmgate Films. DVD distribution is being handled through Well Go USA Entertainment. As for the technical specifications, the film is sharply made, and there’s great care that’s been put into its various sights and sounds, along with some winning cinematography. As for the special features, it comes with the usual obligatory ‘making of’ short (about 15 minutes) that really doesn’t reveal all that much into the story or vision, but it’s nice to have something, isn’t it? Plus, there is the theatrical trailer.
RECOMMENDED. It goes without saying that the subject matter of THE SEASONING HOUSE is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and I certainly don’t blame them: I’m not entirely certain it’s my cup of tea! The script toys with male dominance themes as they apply to sex in this curiously under-developed world (i.e. is this our future? Is this our past? Why does everyone speak with Russian accents but soldiers pay with U.S. money? How was this house constructed with more space behind its walls than in front of them?), and its sleight of hand is likely to offend many in the audience. That, and there’s no characterization to speak of. This is a white-knuckles-bared thriller – nothing more – so don’t look for anything else, and you’re likely to be entertained by it. Otherwise, it’s a morally bankrupt about a morally bankrupt universe … with a downbeat ending that almost promises a follow-up (though none is needed).
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Well GO USA Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of THE SEASONING HOUSE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.