Early Screener Review: Pernicious (2015)
It was supposed to be an adventure of a lifetime as three young girls spend the summer in Thailand. But their adventure quickly becomes a nightmare when the trio unleashes the spirit of a murdered child with only one thing on her mind - revenge.
Originally due out in 2014 but still not yet released, Pernicious is a movie I've been waiting a long, long time to check out. While it's not made by The Asylum, it does have Asylum-Regular James Cullen Bressack writing and directing it. Bressack is responsible for a couple other Asylum movies I've got reviews for on here, 13/13/13 and Blood Lake, both of which I may not have thought were great by any means, but still enjoyable. And considering my love for Asylum, anybody that does work for them has my undying loyalty for all future projects. In addition, this horror movie also happens to star two Asylum Regulars as well, hottie Jackie Moore from Atlantic Rim and 100 Ghost Street, and the always-beautiful Ciara Hanna re-teaming with Bressack from their time together on Blood Lake. Hanna is also quite well-known for playing the Yellow Power Ranger on Power Rangers Megaforce and it's second season Super Megaforce, that franchise's 20th Anniversary season.
Seeing as how I'm already quite familiar with these three fine folk, and the fact that they worked together on a horror movie (which is, without a doubt, my favorite genre), you can see why I'd be super stoked for Pernicious and why I was absolutely thrilled to be sent a screener copy by the awesome people at Hillin Entertainment and Benetone Films (a production company that also, as it happens, is responsible for many Bollywood movies that I also enjoy. Yes, you did indeed just read that correctly).
And the wait was worth it as I ended up having a blood-soaked blast with Pernicious! Not a perfect film (I'll get to those reasons soon enough) but certainly an enjoyable one for B-Movie Horror fans, and the hard work, care, love, and dedication of those behind the scenes really shone through.
The plot is a simple enough one – A trio of girls gone to Thailand on a program to help teach school kids English end up being put up in a house where a little girl had been tortured, murdered, and encased in gold to be a statue. When one of the girls removes an item from the sacred spirit house, a dollhouse-sized shrine of sorts to the spirit of the dead gold girl, it causes the spirit to come alive and haunt the girls, harassing them when they're awake and then possessing them whenever they fall asleep. That's really all there is to the plot, but that's fine as when it comes to horror movies I don't look for, nor necessarily want, an overly convoluted plot. Simpler is sometimes better in this case. And I have to say, I really loved the Thailand location. Not only did the movie take place there and was steeped in Thailand superstition and mythology, but it was actually also shot there as well, a rarity for B-Movies outside of East Africa, Romania, and the U.S., and the movie is much better for it. Thailand is such a beautiful place and Pernicious shows off that landscape, culture, and their mythology quite well and respectful, and I honestly believe this movie wouldn't have been nearly as good had it been essentially the exact same movie but set and filmed in some small random town in the U.S.. The confusion, worry, and panicking of being new to living in a place you don't know, in the middle of a culture you're not familiar with, and having your life fall apart as things just keep going wrong around you is something that just couldn't have been accomplished as well had this been a local-set story. Plus, as mentioned before, the scenery and location-shooting of being in Thailand itself was just beautiful and not something that could have been replicated had it been shot elsewhere.
I'm not sure if that decision had been one made by the studio or the director, but I wouldn't be surprised if it had been James Cullen Bressack's, simply because almost every other directorial choice he made with this movie turned out to be pretty good. For example, this movie is filled with tons of unique and interesting camera angles, movements, and transitions that lift this above the other mundane cookie cutter directing jobs of most B-Movies. Not to say that's a bad thing for them, as B-Movies aren't meant to be made as fine art, but it's still always a great surprise and pleasure when one rises above the rest in one or more departments. Out of the three movies of Bressack's that I've seen now, this is without a doubt the best one, and the most professional. With that said, I do feel like he could get some practice in with tightening up some scenes and cutting out some filler. There are a few scenes scattered throughout that I feel went on just a bit too long. Nothing really all that major, but it did get tedious at times and I think those said scenes could have been shortened and the movie would have been stronger for it.
As for the lead actresses Jackie Moore, Ciara Hanna, and The Young and the Restless' Emily O'Brien, while they were a blast to watch and I enjoyed watching all three, the acting from them was kind of all over the place, and while some scenes were genuinely great and even laugh-out-loud funny when intended, there were other scenes where they just came across stiff and bland as if they were reading from a teleprompter or almost like they were having trouble with the dialog, to the point where quite often it almost seemed like conversations between them were being ad-libbed as opposed to being recited from a screenplay, with characters repeating things that have already been said and gone over, and even personalities seeming to switch around and come and go, depending on the scene. With that said, whether it was a scene where the acting was great or one where it was a bit more poor, these three main leads always had great chemistry together and I never once stopped believing they were close friends. I followed production on this movie in its early days, and there were behind the scenes photos of the lead girls goofing off and going out to hang out, and I have no doubt that their real life friendship helped that chemistry come through all the better in the movie. Also, adult fans of Power Rangers will be thrilled to know that Ciara Hanna gets to flex her acting muscles in this movie far more than the producers of Power Rangers ever let her, and she turns in a much better performance here than she was able to under the constraints of that show, even during the aforementioned scenes where the acting is a bit clunky and not up to par with the rest of the movie.
One of the things that these three leads do always play well, is frightened. Not once during the entire movie, when there was a scene of one or more being scared and frightened and were panicking, did I not believe them or find it groan-inducing. And trust me, there is quite a lot of scenes dealing with them being scared, and most of them worked great and were genuinely creepy. Some of the CGI-based scares didn't quite work for me though as they came across a bit too cartoony as opposed to scary, but the brutality of the death scenes and torture scenes more than made up for that. And oh yes, gore hounds will find lots to love here as this movie, if nothing else, is bloody as hell, unforgiving, and totally relentless. Right from the opening moments with a crying frightened child being tied to a chair, tortured, and murdered in a satanic-esque ritual, to the blood-soaked brutal climax, this movie is certainly never short on the bright red stuff. There were some scenes that even I had a hard time watching, mostly when it came to a three-way torture scene during the first time the main leads get possessed. The one thing I seem to always have a hard time watching in horror movies, is anything dealing with eyeballs. I just can't stand seeing eyeballs being gouged out or penetrated or any of that, so suffice to say there was at least one scene in this movie that I actually had to look away from for a few seconds - something that I haven't done with a horror movie in quite a long time.
Pernicious is a horror movie, made by an Asylum director, funded by a Bollywood company, starring a Power Rangers actor. As far as things I'm interested in goes, this had the perfect formula and while it may not have been a perfect movie, it was certainly damn well an enjoyable one. Director James Cullen Bressack seems to be refining his talent with each new movie he puts out, and while Pernicious is still a bit rough around some of its edges, it's still easily his best work yet and considering how each movie he does just gets better and better, this is one of those horror directors that many might not know about right now, but I would love to see where he's at in five years time as I can easily see him breaking out big into the horror scene in just some short time.
This isn't a movie for everybody, as the level of blood and gore here might turn some people off that aren't big into the horror genre. Lord knows even I had trouble watching some of the torture scenes here and about 90% of what I watch is horror movies. But if you're a horror movie fan and don't mind a bit of blood and gore and want to check out something new and interesting, with a few genuine creepy moments, three beautiful and talented lead actresses (even if that talent may not come through in quite all of the scenes), gorgeous Thailand scenery, and some really fun, unique, and interesting camera tricks to be found in it, than you can't go wrong with Pernicious when it hits VOD services and a limited theatrical run on June 19th.
7/10 Rooms in the Psych Ward