Make-up and special effects maestro Paul Hyett (Citadel, The Woman In Black, everything from Neil Marshall) delivers an impressive directorial debut in this assured and atmospheric thriller that is only let down by a script that never capitalises on its macabre set-up.
Newcomer Rosie Day stars as "Angel", a deaf-mute who is torn from her family home by invading troops in the Balkans circa 1996 and set to work in a grim brothel, doping up the other girls who serve as comfort women for passing troops and lecherous businessmen. Given free run of the remote establishment, and singled out as the favourite of pimp Viktor (a delightfully sleazy Kevin Howarth), Angel moves from room to room using the air vents and crawlspaces. Each time she emerges, her disturbingly lithe and supple figure recalls the insect-like movements of The Ring's demonic antagonist, Sadako, yet here, Angel is the focus of our sympathy.
Hyett does an exceptional job of creating a grim and labyrinthine world, unwillingly inhabited by a collection of imprisoned girls and young women who are ritually raped and brutalised by Viktor's patrons. However, as the story develops and Angel is slowly encouraged to plot her escape, The Seasoning House fails to fully exploit its premise. The specific time period is never utilised to any significant degree, nor is the fact that Angel can neither hear nor speak. When Sean Pertwee's cartoonishly evil villain arrives, with his squad of equally amoral soldiers, the stage is set for Angel to avenge her fellow prisoners and make a bid for freedom.
When the script eventually does call for action and death, Hyett is clearly in his comfort zone, ensuring he pushes his audience far out of theirs with a string of ghoulishly bloody kills. Throats are slit, faces are stabbed and there are numerous shots and blows to various heads, which Hyett never shies away from showing us in spluttery detail. Sadly, the contrivances that lead to chases through the bewilderingly roomy crawlspaces and then later beyond the confines of the titular establishment disgard plausibility for the sake of moving the action from one cliched set-up to the next.
All that being said, The Seasoning House frequently delivers an oppressive, unsettling atmosphere, memorable death sequences and a confidence behind the camera that should encourage investors to get behind future projects with Hyett at the helm. Equally clear, is that 18-year-old Rosie Day has a long screen career ahead of her, as she effortlessly carries the entire film on her slight shoulders, without ever uttering a single line of dialogue. So, while the film itself never quite manages to live up to the promise of its stunning - and almost entirely dialogue-free - opening 20 minutes, Paul Hyett has successfully proved his talents extend far beyond finding new and gratuitous ways to dispatch of Mr. Pertwee.