It’s a risky thing for a person who works in films, be it as an editor, sound designer or a carpenter, to make the move into directing. I have seen some succeed and I have seen some fail.
Paul Hyett has had an impressive career in films spanning over 15 years. As a make-up artist, he has designed the special make-up effects for such films as The Descent, Eden Lake, Attack The Block and The Woman In Black and now, he too, has made the transition to directing with his first offering, The Seasoning House, which kicked off festivities at this year’s Film4 Frightfest.
So how did he do on his first outing? Well, put simply, The Seasoning House is nothing short of stunning. A truly scorching debut.
The Seasoning House drops us into the Balkans in 1996, around the time of the conflicts in the region, and into a “seasoning house”, essentially a “rape house” where young girls, taken from their villages and their families, are viewed as nothing more than commodities and sold to grizzled, hooting Balkan men for sex, as often as their bodies will allow, until they break and, ultimately, die.
I know, I know. It’s one for the family…
It is here that we meet Angel, a young, deaf-mute girl, also ripped from her home and dropped into this hell, who spends her time “tending” to the girls, her job being to wash the other girls down, apply their make-up and make sure that they are all doped-up, docile and fit to “work”.
Angel is spared many of the indignities endured by the other girls due in no small part to a large birthmark that covers a large part of her left cheek, however, her life isn’t all plain-sailing. She is “protected” by the proprietor of the house, ex-soldier and all-round bastard, Viktor, who promises her that he will one day take her away from this place but, of course, in the meantime, there is still business to be done and money to be made.
When Angel strikes up a friendship with one of the other girls, Vanya, it opens the floodgates to a whirlwind of revenge and violence that is simply remarkable.
Hyett has clearly learnt a lot from his time on other film sets. The Seasoning House is a carefully crafted and controlled film which, at times, almost goes too far, but somehow manages to pull itself back from the brink. The direction is excellent, with Hyett infusing the first two acts with a slow, dreamlike, almost ethereal, feel that may reflect either Angel’s resignation to the life that she now tolerates or the state of perpetual drug-based anaesthesia that the girls are constantly under.
The cast do a superb job. Willem Dafoe-alike Kevin Howarth is outstanding and tackles the role of Viktor with real conviction and we are torn between hating him (deservedly so) and as the film goes on, rooting for him. Sean Pertwee, as militia leader Goran, has never been more menacing, while Dominique Provost-Chalkley gives a brave performance as Vanya, especially considering all that the role entails.
Rosie Day is an absolute revelation. She is incredible as Angel and, although she doesn’t utter a single word, her face tells us everything and we are never lost as to what Angel is feeling. It’s notable that this is also Day’s feature film debut. As such, and based on her performance here, I would expect to see a lot more of her in the future.
So, here’s the thing. The Seasoning House is not an easy watch. There is no joy to be found here. A glance at the synopsis alone will tell you that. There are a lot of nasty things going on in this film (incidentally, the make-up effects are excellent, though I would expect nothing less) and I simply hope that it is treated with the respect it deserves when it comes time for certification.
It’s bold cinema, make no mistake, and not a film to be taken lightly. Hyett’s film is an uncompromising, unflinching and brutal glimpse into a real-life world of suffering that we, living out our comfortable little lives, simply cannot fathom and subsequently ignore. Hyett should be commended on making this film as honestly as this one. It’s a film that sticks with you long after the credits have stopped rolling.
The Seasoning House is a raw, powerful and, frankly, brilliant film. I recommend it, but it’s not a date movie.