by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
I was introduced to director James Cullen Bressack’s work a couple of years ago with his found footage film To Jennifer. Filmed and edited completely on an iPhone, the film wasn’t the greatest horror movie I’d ever seen but Bressack’s creative juices flowed from every frame and at a speedy 75 minutes I finished the film happy with what I’d seen. I spent a little while catching up with some of his back catalogue and really thoroughly enjoyed myself. Films like My Pure Joy and 13/13/13 might not be the greatest films you’ve ever seen, but you can bet your last pennies that Bressack had a ton of fun while he was making them with every scene evidence to that fact. It’s this that makes James Cullen Bressack’s film stand out from the huge amounts of low budget rubbish that the horror genre sees nowadays.
Bressack quickly became one of my favourite directors a couple of Christmases ago when his distributor finally put what may be his most infamous film, Hate Crime onto video-on-demand and I was finally able to watch it. I’ve spoken a lot in the past about my love for Hate Crime so I won’t bleat on about it here. Suffice to say that on a super-low budget, Bressack has made one of the most horrific and disturbing films I’ve ever seen. A film that easily sits as one of my favourites but I’m not particularly comfortable recommending it to anyone outside of my twisted little circle! So when the director done an interview where he described Pernicious as his “…most violent film to date” I was intrigued, then worried, then intrigued some more, then really scared. I just wasn’t sure that that was a statement that Pernicious could live up to and if it did, what on earth was I about to let myself in for? Thankfully, Pernicious didn’t disappoint.
Sisters Alex and Rachel, along with their friend Julia have come to Thailand in search of the holiday adventure of a lifetime. Having travelled half way around the world to admire the scenery, party a bit and maybe squeeze in a little volunteer work, the girls quickly find their rented home away from home and explore the gorgeous house they will be spending their time in Thailand in. Normally, when you or me arrive at our holiday home, we go round, call dibs on rooms, check the kitchen and the TV, these girls did all that and more as they discover a life size gold statue of a girl draped in a bloody sheet given pride of place in the upstairs room clearly there to be worshipped. It turns out, the statue is a “Kumari”, without spoiling too much, it’s a statue that holds the soul of a young girl, a freaky bastardisation on an already pretty creepy Nepalese tradition of worshipping young girls as “Living goddesses” that does exactly what it’s meant to, it gives you the shivers.
Hardly any time has passed between the girls arriving in this most traditional of South East Asian countries before they find themselves in a bar grabbing themselves a couple of strange guys to take back to their holiday hideaway. Here is where the fun really begins. The girls suddenly take on a fun new hobby in the form of ritual torture. Doing almost nothing to hide his ode to Hostel, James Cullen Bressack breaks open his gross little box of toys for some pretty disgusting scenes that sit right up there with torture porn staples like Saw or Grotesque. An extremely uncomfortable ten minutes that includes the slow removal of tongues and eyes, guaranteed to make even the toughest of us squirm just a little bit. Possessed to do these things, the girls wake up the following morning thinking it was nothing but a strange, disturbing nightmare and go about their business. Well… Kind of. Before the Kumari statue has even begun to get involved in the girls’ lives, they are feeling its effects and ignoring its warnings. Choosing instead to see what the golden idol has up her shiny sleeves next.
James Cullen Bressack specialises in extra-strength gruesome on a low budget and Pernicious delivers the blood by the bucket. But what makes the film rise above the rest of the cut-price horror we’ve seen in the past is Bressack’s ability to emote the feeling of terror from the smallest thing. The man puts me on the edge of my seat in almost every one of his scenes and I love him for it. Even when the jump scares are obvious and well telegraphed, they still get the jump. When it comes to scaring the crap out of you, Bressack knows what he’s doing and he does it very well. The director has a spectacular eye for detail and every scene that the Kumari statue is in, every frame that the effigy fills is 100% creepy. Her appearance on screen got the hairs on the back of my neck standing and my arse shivering wondering what the bloody hell was coming next!
Pernicious is a masterclass in low-budget horror from a true student of the genre. It’s not perfect, the acting stumbles a little bit, especially towards the end and the info-dump scene that explains the story is rather weak but aside from that, it’s a fun film that scares and jumps in all the right places with enough blood and gore to satisfy even the most bloodthirsty of horror fans. I enjoyed my time in Thailand with Mr. Bressack and I can’t wait to see what he does when a studio gives him a big budget film.
Pernicious releases in cinemas and On Demand June 19