'Pernicious': Film Review

Courtesy of Benetone Films
"The Ring" meets "Hostel."

Three young women run afoul of an ancient Thai legend in James Cullen Bressack's indie horror film.

You'd think that decades of horror films would have by now taught beautiful young women not to travel to exotic countries in search of fun. But the lesson was apparently lost on the three main characters of James Cullen Bressack's indie film which blends J-horror and torture porn tropes into a thoroughly derivative whole. Featuring enough gore and cheap shocks to satisfy undemanding genre fans, Pernicious offers little to anyone else.

The film is set in Thailand, where the gorgeous trio consisting of Julia (Emily O'Brien) and siblings Alex (Ciara Hanna) and Rachel (Jackie Moore) have arrived for a summer of teaching English to young children despite their inability to speak the local language. Hewing to stereotype — the brunette Julia is level-headed and has a steady boyfriend back home, while the blond sisters are sexed-up and ready to party — the three begin their stay by heading to a local bar where they attract the attention of three randy Englishmen.

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What happens next, after the sextet has returned to the women's large, airy rental house, is predictably gruesome as three of the characters are brutally tortured, with one of them having an eye gouged-out and forced-fed it. The novel surprise is that the assailants are actually the women, who wake up the next morning seriously hung over as if they were drugged and marveling at the realization that they apparently all had the same horrific nightmare.

But what they're most disturbed about is the disappearance of a creepy golden statue of a little girl that was prominently displayed in the house. Their efforts to retrieve it lead them to a crone-like, female witch doctor who warns them of an ancient Thai legend. As a black-and-white flashback reveals, the statue represents a little girl who was murdered, with her spirit inevitably returning to wreak familiar horror movie havoc.

The 23-year-old co-writer/director who already has an impressive number of films to his credit manages to achieve a lot with an obviously limited budget. The Thailand locations add greatly to the ominous atmosphere, and the scares — while often of the standard variety (a bathroom mirror suddenly revealing a horrific presence…really?) — are delivered with admirable proficiency. He also deserves props for refraining from providing the usual gratuitous nudity, although his comely female leads usually wear as little clothing as possible.

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But despite some cleverly nasty narrative twists, the film fails to make much of an impression, other than as another notch on the belt of an ambitious young filmmaker determined to make a mark in his chosen genre.

Production: Benetone Hillin Entertainment in association with Benetone Films, Shyamal Pictures, Milestone Films, Hillin Entertainment, RadioactiveGiant
Cast: Ciara Hanna, Jackie Moore, Emily O'Brien, Russell Geoffrey Banks, Byron Gibson, Jack Prinya, Sohanne Begnana, Jared Cohn, Sara Malakul Lane, Wallop Terathong
Director: James Cullen Bressack
Screenwriters: James Cullen Bressack, Taryn Hillin
Producers: Daemon Hillin, Kulthep Narula, Rachvin Narula
Executive producers: Raijpal Narula, Deepak Simhal, Farid Khan, Ajay Vasu, Albert Sandoval
Director of photography: Seo Mutarevic
Production designer: Peter Cordova
Editor: Daniel Duncan
Composer: Steven R. Bernstein

Not rated, 90 min.