I’m starting to think indie horror filmmaker James Cullen Bressack has either cloned himself or sleeps about three hours a month. Since exploding on the scene with his debut feature film, MY PURE JOY, Bressack hasn’t rested at all. Since 2011 Bressack has made four short films, directed segments in two different anthologies, directed seven features, and currently has two films in post-production, one currently filming, four in pre-production, and has announced three more films. I’m exhausted just typing all that!! His latest film, PERNICIOUS, though, is something special. Bressack himself even describes at as one of his favorite films. Let’s see if it makes the cut.
PERNICIOUS begins with a little pre-credit sacrifice as we watch some kind of ritual being conducted. The only thing we know for certain is that a child was murdered during the ritual. We then switch to the present time and meet up with three twenty-something girls as they land in Thailand (PERNICIOUS was shot on location in Bangkok and Ayutthaya, Thailand). Alex (Ciara Hanna), Julia (Emily O’Brien), and Rachel (Jackie Moore) are planning on staying in Thailand for about a month. The first week they’ll be taking in the sights and then they plan on teaching English to the local children. They rent a house and don’t ya just know it, it’s the same house where the pre-credit sacrifice occurred. But before you roll your eyes and assume the rest of PERNICIOUS follows the standard, lazy, played-out haunted house formula, you’ve got another thing coming.
The girls find what looks like a golden statue of a little girl in one of the upstairs rooms. They ignore it thinking it’s a little strange but live and let live, right? That night they go out to a club and meet some Brits also traveling in Thailand. Julia found them kind of creepy, but as Rachel points out:
“They’re not creepy, they’re British … which also means they’re intelligent.”
I love that line!! After some late night partying and a lot of boozing the girls bring the guys back to the house. There’s some fooling around and hanky-panky but then the girls seem to enter into some kind of fugue-like state and hallucinate about violently torturing and killing the guys. The next morning Colin (Russell Geoffrey Banks), Byron (Byron Gibson), and Shane (Jared Cohn) are nowhere to be found. The girls discover their jewelry, as well as the golden statue, are missing and assume the guys roofied and robbed them. This is when the weird stuff starts happening. Throw in a creepy old lady and a next door neighbor (Jack Prinya) who both seem to know what’s going on and you’ve got one creepy, scary plot unfolding.
I was captivated by this film; seriously captivated. The characters of the three vacationing girls could have easily slipped into stereo-typical bimbo caricatures but Bressack gives them depth and develops them nicely as the story progresses. Hanna, O’Brien, and Moore are all up for the challenging roles and prove they all have some serious acting chops. The other elements that really pop in PERNICIOUS is the camerawork and the cinematography. The film looks beautiful and the camerawork is mesmerizing.
Bressack has made quite a reputation for himself as not being stingy on the blood and gore in his films but in PERNICIOUS he goes way over quota!! The scenes where the girls are hallucinating about killing the guys, if they are indeed hallucinations, caught me off guard. They didn’t just torture these guys, they tortured the f**k outta those guys. They brutalized them in some extremely graphic and cringe-inducing ways. These scenes made the HOSTEL films look like amateur hour. Jerami Cruise did the special f/x and if you’re not familiar with Cruise’s work then shame on you!! Cruise did the special f/x for AUGUST UNDERGROUND’S MORDUM and PENANCE, THE REDSIN TOWER, MURDER COLLECTION V.1, MASKHEAD, and SELLA TURCICA, to name a few. If you haven’t seen any of these films, what are you waiting for?? If you have seen any of these then you know exactly how good Cruise is and that you’re in for a real treat.
The f/x during the torture scenes aren’t the only stand outs. We also get a frightening looking spirit which is put to great use. It’s nice to watch a horror film and actually be scared during it. In the post-INSIDIOUS horror world the haunted house-ghost story has become, in my opinion, stale and predictable. Bressack, though, injects new life and new scares into this tired, cliched sub-genre. The story behind the cause of the unrestful spirit is also pretty interesting. Basically the girls unleashed the soul of a restless little girl who now wants revenge on the living. There’s also the Legend of the Kumari that plays into the mythology that Bressack creates. I found there to be some inconsistencies as to why the spirit is terrorizing the girls but it’s nothing that took anything away from the overall fun of the film. There’s also a great ending that breaks the viewer’s expectations.
I can understand why Bressack is so proud of PERNICIOUS. Not only is it a well-written film but he also gets some great performances out of his cast, delivers some fantastic scares and extremely well done special f/x, and the entire film looks gorgeous. PERNICIOUS marks a turning point in Bressack’s career to a more mature level of filmmaking. If I’m not mistaken Bressack recently turned twenty-three years old and if he’s all ready making films like PERNICIOUS then I can’t wait until he’s forty-three to see what he’s producing. Don’t miss PERNICIOUS!!
Director: James Cullen Bressack (& writer)
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 7.5 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer