Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Pernicious in Title Only: A Movie Review

*full disclosure: an online screener of this film was provided by October Coast PR.

**there are spoilers here.

Director: James Cullen Bressack.

Writers: James Cullen Bressack and Taryn Hillin.

Cast: Ciara Hanna, Emily O'Brien and Jackie Moore.

Pernicious is an indie horror feature from director James Cullen Bressack (Hate Crime). The film's title is synonymous with something that is harmful. And, the film follows several travellers in Thailand and the ghosts they meet. Based in supernatural superstition, Pernicious offers unpolished sound design, including ADR. The film also lifts much of its scares from Asian films of the past, including Ringu (1998) and Ju-on (2002). Though, the term scares is a misnomer as many of the potential horror elements are laughable. Overall, Pernicious is a cliche filled and disappointing indie horror outing.

The film begins and stays with a trio of travellers. Alex (Ciarra Hanna) and Rachel (Jackie Moore) are sisters, while Julia (Emily O'Brien) is a friend. Together, they shop around the local city, or pick up random guys at the local bar, or turn to murder. You see, a supernatural entity is possessing at least one of the girls. The ghostly motivations are suspect, but the film unfolds in a predictable way, with lots of bloodshed. Pernicious is a very passable horror feature.

Almost all of the film's story has been covered before. At its heart, the plot is based on a familial tragedy. Family member kills family member and the results lead to even more tragedy. Then, a ghostly survivor begins to pick new victims, via possession. Girl turns against girl. And, few are left standing by the end of the film. Elements of Ravenous (1999) come to mind, with the conflict initiated by malicious spirits. As well, scares, such as the mirror trick, are re-used here. Fans of horror have seen this directing device in films such as Mirrors (2008), with a closed bathroom cabinet revealing demons behind.. Other scares are lifted from The Grudge (2004), with a demonic character crawling under a character's blankets. A child's scream rattles off screen. These plot elements and semi-terrifying scenes are almost all weakly developed and poorly delivered.

The film also hosts production setbacks. The initial scenes seem to be missing audio. Though, this mistake could have been intentional as the credits roll. Still, it is strange to see characters talking and the viewer hearing nothing. Later scenes have also been dubbed. The dubbing is passable, but the ADR is repeated a number of times throughout the film and through long sections. Sound design was not completed very professionally. Settings look good. But, some of the transitions in characters and scenes are less than stellar. One scene of boozing and debauchery changes into one of torture, with no explanation. This transition is jarring. Also, the metamorphosis of a character from a normal, young woman into one possessed is not developed over time nor with subtlety. Instead, the change occurs quickly and again, with very little explanation. Pernicious is a difficult film to stay with or invest in.

The trailer for Pernicious showed last year year and it piqued this horror fan's interest. But having seen the film, this critic was disappointed by the lack of characterizations and unsettling sound design. The story is a bit of a mess, at its core. As well, potential jump scares are pulled off with near hilarity; there is no fear to be aroused here. Instead, the film borders on tedium and this indie horror film fan would not recommend it to anyone.

Overall: 6 out of 10 (weakly drawn characters, poor transitions in action, lots of eye candy and not much else).

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