First off, I just want to say thanks to James Cullen Bressack, Director of the Horror film “Pernicious”. I appreciate you giving me access to an online screener before the film’s official release date. Bressack’s parents have had a lot of experience working in TV and Film, so it should come as no surprise that James, at just 22 years of age, has already directed 6 full length feature films. Some include the recent, “Blood Lake”, “13/13/13” and his first full length film, “My Pure Joy”. Not to mention, he has something like a dozen other projects in the pipeline, proving that he is as hard-working as anyone in the business. It seems like an eternity ago that I watched his unrelenting, home invasion film “Hate Crime”. I could see the potential he had for a long and successful career, which he is clearly well on the way towards, with his latest film Pernicious. Pernicious is a film about three beautiful, young American girls who are visiting Thailand to teach English for the summer. Julia (played by the lovely Emily O’Brien), is the level-headed one, with the steady boyfriend back home, and hoping to make a difference with this job. Rachel (the gorgeous Jackie Moore), is the sassy adventurous type, willing to take a walk on the wild side. Rounding out the trio, is Rachel’s stunning younger sister, Alex (Ciara Hanna). Shortly after arriving to the house they’ve been given, the girls notice an old, golden statue of a young girl. At first they don’t think anything of it, but little do they know what’s in store for them. With vivid nightmares haunting them, a group of guys they met missing and the statue having been stolen, they are led down a dark path of Thai folklore, that they might never return from. The film also stars Russell Geoffrey Banks, Byron Gibson, Jack Prinya and Sohanne Bengana.
I’m not sure what the estimated budget for the film is, but it’s definitely not a huge sum, not that you’d pick it. The production value combined with the location choices, make for an incredibly polished look. The river, the old style villages and the green landscape, setup some impressive cinematography. James uses a lot of crane shots that look fantastic, and the smooth Steadicam work inside the house, feels smooth and precise. The crisp editing and fast pace of the film works in its favor. 90 minutes is the perfect length for something like this, I didn’t find any of the scenes were unnecessary. The dialogue audio levels were pretty good, and the oriental music style worked. It didn’t feel forced, like you were stepping into China town or something (haha). To top off the technical aspect, is some lovely mood lighting. All the scenes are lit so well, some are silhouetted by certain objects which helps give it a more mysterious feel. Although I own 3 or 4 of James’s films I’ve only seen one, so I don’t really have much to make a comparison. However, there’s no doubting he has a great understanding of how to shoot a film, the keen eye for what works and what doesn’t. Naturally the more experience you gain, the less mistakes you would expect to make, but that’s easier said than done.
Let’s talk about the casting, and the dynamics of the chemistry between these three actresses. I think Jackie and Ciara are really well cast as sisters, you feel that bickering and jealousy that some sisters have, right from word go. I think Rachel is slightly envious of Alex, but at the same time she’s the older sister and she wants to hold that over Alex’s head. Emily who plays Julia, helps keep everyone in check by being the level head. She runs the gauntlet, so as to avoid any conflict with the group and for the most part it works. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a majority female cast in a horror movie, actually pull it together. These girls seem genuine, they talk in a realistic way and the chemistry really works. All the performances are very good, and I don’t think anyone steals the glory from anyone else. The film can only work if these three girls are good, the story centers on them and this curse, If you don’t buy them, it just doesn’t work. I can’t pick a favorite of the girls (haha), they are all stunning but I’m going to say Ciara. If she’s the type of girlfriend you had, you’d definitely be constantly reminding her how beautiful she is, I’ll admit it I crushed out a little bit like a nerd (haha).
James script isn’t perfect, or all that original in some of its content, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. We’ve seen curses and such before, but a lot of these types of stories seem very far-fetched, even taking into account the supernatural aspect. This one is a lot more cohesive. In the final act, we get some clear background information, including a flashback and that’s the type of detail the audience needs to see. Normally in a film like this, you probably wouldn’t get much in the way of blood and gore, being supernatural and all. However, I can safely say that you do with this one, and I’d imagine that will continue with any James Bressack film, because he seems to dig this stuff. I don’t want to spoil any of the action sequences, but just know that there’s some gnarly stuff in here, and you won’t be disappointed.
I had a couple of small issues with some details in the story. I don’t know this for a fact, but I’d imagine Thai people who speak English, would enter into English when speaking to an American. It’s a very small nit-picky thing, but I tend to notice things like that (haha). I’m also never really sold on people drinking drinks given to them by other people, especially if they don’t know them that well. I know stuff like that does happen in real life, I guess I just like to think majority of people are smarter than that. Without spoiling that section of the film, it’s probably the part I’m a little fuzzy on. The way that haziness unfolds, seemed to me like it was missing a scene or two, which would have made things a lot clearer. How were all three girls affected at the same time??. I didn’t think it was clear at all, I kept thinking maybe it was a dream sequence, but the shots at the end of the film show that it wasn’t. One more scene could have helped clear all that up.
Some slight adjustments with the suspenseful score, could have helped build the tension a bit better. A few sections of the film had good suspense, but others were ruined with telegraphed jump scares that lost whatever reaction they were hoping to get. I was hoping for more of the Shyamalan (Sixth Sense) approach where things are a little more subtle, it’s always scarier that way. The story is guilty of dropping a few plot points for an extended amount of time without returning to them, making you kind of forget they ever happened at all. I mentioned that the blood and gore is consistent and the kills are cool. Though again, I felt that James hinted at some more explosive death sequences, maybe involving heads (haha), that didn’t quite come to be.
I think Pernicious is the best Horror film so far this year, albeit there isn’t much to compare it to yet. It’s technically brilliant, the writing is realistic with plenty of story content and folklore. Casting these three beautiful ladies, who give great performances in those lead roles, and setting this story in Thailand helps give it a fresh feel. It’s quickly edited, timely in its length, and it contains plenty of really cool blood and gore for the gore-hounds. I don’t know that you can ask for much more from the genre, or from such a talented filmmaker at the very beginning of what should be a lengthy career. Well done James!, I look forward to watching and reviewing several of your other films in the near future.
My rating for “Pernicious” is 7.5/10