Revenge films aren’t always easy to watch, but, when the bad guys ultimately get their comeuppance, I find great satisfaction in watching them pay for their misdeeds in as gruesome a manner as the MPAA will allow. I usually find myself squirming through the first half of such films, only to go into full-on fist-pumping mode during the final act, where the punishment fits (or, hopefully, exceeds) the crime, and our beleaguered heroes can then go on to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Of course, most of these films require a strong stomach, and, of all of the sub-genres of the revenge films, the rape/revenge film is by far the most harrowing and divisive. Films like I Spit on Your Grave, Thriller – A Cruel Picture (aka; They Call Her One Eye), Ms. 45, and, of course, Last House on the Left (and The Virgin Spring, the film that inspired it), were all met with controversy, with groups decrying the scenes of on-screen violation as nothing more than sick misogynistic male fantasy, and, in a lot of cases, I actually agree. However, in some cases, where rape and violence against women is part of the history or culture of a place or time, not including such scenes in a film wouldn’t just be irresponsible, it’d be a slap in the fact to the women who endured the suffering, as if to suggest that it never happened at all. Such is the case with the new film, The Seasoning House; a deeply disturbing look at sex slavery during the Balkan war.
Rosie Day stars as a young deaf mute girl who witnesses her mother gunned down by a group of soldiers led by Goran (Sean Pertwee), and summarily finds herself imprisoned in a brothel overseen by the lascivious and mercurial Viktor (Kevin Howarth). Due to the birthmarks on her face, as well as her disability, Viktor takes a shine to the girl, dubbing her Angel (after the charm on the necklace she wears), and, rather than have her service his clientele, assigns her the task of preparing the other girls for their visitors by shooting them up with heroin and hastily applying make-up to their bruised and battered faces. After a fashion, Angel goes about her duties in a very businesslike manner, doing her best not to get too close to the girls, and, every once-in-awhile, servicing Viktor (who has fallen in love with her) in exchange for chocolate and trinkets, as well as her own comparably posh quarters. Angel learns the layout of the house quite well during her stay, too, using the large mansion’s walls and ducts to navigate from room to room after she’s locked into her room for the night.
When a new group of girls are brought in, Angel meets Violetta (Anna Walton), who happens to speak sign language. Angel forms a bond with Violetta, and begins to do her special favors, like sneak her chocolate in the middle of the night so the two can have the sort conversations Angel hasn’t had since the death of her mother. Angel can only do so much for her new friend, however, and, after a very rough customer nearly kills her, fracturing her pelvis while raping her, Violetta grows gravely ill. Angel manages to persuade Viktor to call the doctor in to care for her friend, and, while he recommends the girl be transferred to him for treatment, Viktor won’t part with one of his girls, and only agrees to give her a rest.
It’s not long after that another group of men come calling, however, and this time it’s a quintet of soldiers, led by Goran, himself, who has a financial stake in Viktor’s business. Viktor, of course, lets his business partner and his men have the run of the place, but, when one of his men chooses Violetta, Angel finds herself forced into action to save her friend and, ultimately, avenge the death of her mother.
Directed by FX guru, Paul Hyett, The Seasoning House is an incredibly violent, unsettling, and downbeat viewing experience. This is NOT a feel good film, but, I take issue with the mainstream critics who’ve written off this beautifully shot and moving film as “torture porn”. Yes, it’s very hard to stomach, but this isn’t some sort of fantasy that Hyett plucked out of thin air. Places like The Seasoning House were (and in some places, still are) a very real thing, and, if you’re going to make a film such as this, you simply can’t pull any punches as sanitizing the events in a film like this is akin to ignoring them entirely. Granted, the final act revenge scenario is a genre cliché, and, even then, it’s not entirely satisfying as no amount of suffering would make up for the foul misdeeds of the film’s antagonists. Still, while I can’t recommend the film as “entertainment” (if you are entertained by this sort of thing, you should really consult a specialist), I will say it’s one of the most sobering and mesmerizing genre films I’ve seen in some time.
The Seasoning House comes to Blu-ray via Well Go USA, and is presented in a 2.35:1 transfer that is as ugly as it was intended to be. The film’s dirty aesthete runs through every frame, with a palette of murky greens and browns shot through what looks like a filter of luminescent dust. It’s an image that’s as oppressive and unpleasant as the subject matter, and, as such, is totally befitting of The Seasoning House. The film’s 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track is immersive, with a nice spread of directional cues and ambient effects, while dialogue is crisp and high in the mix.
Bonus materials include a short making of (HD) and the film’s trailer.
It’s always difficult to review a film like The Seasoning House as its subject matter is so controversial and disconcerting that one often wonders why anyone would want to make a movie about it in the first place. That being said, there are plenty of other historical dramas that are just as unflinching in their depictions of the atrocities men are capable of during wartime that have gotten praise for doing just that. If you read some of the other reviews for The Seasoning House it’s as if the critics are suggesting that Hyett and company are somehow glamorizing or exploiting the crimes against humanity in the Balkans for a quick buck, when, in reality the film is anything but exploitational or sensationalistic. By all accounts, the horrors in this film were experienced by thousands of young woman, and to present it in any other way would be a horrible disservice to them and their ordeal.
The Seasoning House isn’t remotely enjoyable or entertaining, but it is exceptionally well-made and acted, and, for better or worse, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.