Pernicious tells the story of three young women who intend to spend the summer in Thailand teaching children to read English, but get much more than they bargained for. The trio unintentionally releases the spirit of a murdered child which has one goal: Revenge! Although contemporary horror isn’t hungry for tales of revenge or stories of the spirits of murderous children, I was optimistic. Horror that takes place in Thailand or has roots in Thai lore isn’t something that comes across my desk every day, and James Cullen Bressack was a familiar enough name that I decided to take a chance. For once, I’m incredibly glad I did.
The opening scene sets the tone of the more brutal and violent portions of the film. It opens on a disturbing portrayal of a ritual, complete with blood sacrifice and strange symbols. The scene that immediately follows is a much less intense depiction of three young women becoming acquainted with their summer dwellings. This led me to believe I was settling in for a slow burning adventure with a twisting plot rather than a hack and slash oriented story, but Pernicious was more than either one of those expectation sets alone. This film has the benefit of a director who was also part of the writing team, which helps the storytelling component of the picture tremendously.
A common problem in independent horror is failure on the part of the director to effectively express planned elements of the plot which were envisioned by the writing team. That often means that these titles are void of foreshadowing or elements that promote suspension of disbelief. Pair those with the tendency of indie productions to have low budget effects and poor acting, and suddenly you have the makings of a terrible film, regardless of whatever magic the writers had hoped to create.
Pernicious manages to deftly avoid each of the common pitfalls of independent films with ease. The score is excellent, and the sound and visual effects are perfectly designed to create an atmosphere which alternates between tense and creepy. At times the effects even deviate into the disturbingly macabre.
On the acting front, Ciara Hanna (interview) who plays Alex has a strong background in television from her time on Power Rangers Megaforce and The Bold and the Beautiful. She was an excellent choice for the role of the lively younger sister. Her ability to effectively convey a range of emotion carried many scenes across the thin line between ‘questionable’ and ‘believable’. In addition to solid acting, Bressack manages to effectively lead the audience in a variety of directions before the grand reveal. What is remarkable about this is that he never loses sight of the final resolution, even when pursuing other elements of the plot.
This film is most appropriate for horror fans that enjoy a good mix of suspense intermingled with gore. In fact, there are several scenes in Pernicious that may be difficult to watch if you’re squeamish. The film manages to utilize several well executed jump scares, but they are well contained and aren’t gratuitous or excessive, which keeps them from being predictable. Overall I would say Pernicious contains some of the best elements of the haunted house genre along with elects of the thriller and grindhouse genres. Somehow, Bressack and co scripture Taryn Hillin were able to write Pernicious in such a way that all of those influences flow and intermingle well with one another. The end result is a film that not only makes sense, but is unnerving. Pernicious will be out in Theaters and on VOD June 19th.
WICKED RATING: 6.5/10
Director: James Cullen Bressack
Stars: Ciara Hanna, Emily O’Brien, Jackie Moore
Writers: James Cullen Bressack & Taryn Hillin
Production Company: Benetone Hillin Entertainment
Length: 90 Mins
Sub-Genre: Foreign Horror