Astute horror fans will notice a wide array of disparate influences as they dig through Pernicious.
It starts out like a typical “three pretty young women in a haunted house” premise, albeit one tat takes place in exotic locale of Thailand, but it also exhibits some influences from the “J-horror” department as well as a few brutal sequences that would feel right at home in a Hostel sequel. The result is sort of a stew-like concoction that tosses a bunch of reliable ingredient into the narrative – but tastes pretty good all the same.
Americans Alex (Ciara Hanna), Rachel (Jackie Moore), and Julia (Emily O’Brien) are in Thailand to work as English tutors, but once they arrive at their isolated lodgings and realize they have at least a week to kick back and enjoy the sights, well, that’s when it’s time to party. Pay no mind to the weird old man next door, or the creepy golden statue that seems to captivate the young trio; it’s time to head out, get drunk, and hook up with a few sleazy British alpha-bros who have a flask full of a date rape cocktail.
And that’s pretty much when all hell breaks loose.
Suffice to say that A) the creepy old man next door has some nasty secrets, B) that freaky golden stature possesses some very unpleasant powers, and C) those sleazy British alpha-bros who have a flask full of a date rape cocktail picked the wrong women to mess with while vacationing in Thailand. Things get very gruesome indeed during the sextet’s big evening, but when the next morning arrives, the golden statue is missing, and the ladies have only the vaguest recollection of what happened. So of course they head off to the local witch to figure out what the hell’s going on.
Director James Cullen Bressack (To Jennifer, Hate Crime) seems to enjoy shooting in an exotic location — Pernicious is easily his most visually impressive film to date – and he does a fine job of setting up (at least) three different flavors of horror story in one frame. If Pernicious suffers from a few second act slow spots (and it does), it earns a few points on sheer unpredictability. One creepy sequence feels like an homage to Ju-On: The Grudge, and then a few minutes later we’re dealing with gruesome demises that feel like a tip of the hat to Eli Roth and/or the Saw series. Also that creepy old guy next door has his own flashback to share, and let’s just say it’s not a very pleasant tale.
What’s most interesting about Pernicious is how the three central women are presented as both the villains and the victims of the piece. At one point they’re the “ugly Americans” who seem to deserve a little shot to the ego, and then later on they become unwitting pawns of an evil spirit who seriously dislikes sleazy British alpha-bros who travel around with date rape cocktails in their back pocket.There’s not much in Pernicious that hardcore horror fans haven’t seen before, but at least the components have been jumbled around to an entertaining degree and dropped into an exotic location that’s pretty damn creepy on its own.
Scott Weinberg (@ScottEWeinberg)
PERNICIOUS is on VOD (US) and in the UK here.