Movie Review: Pernicious

Pernicious poster

On DVD August 25 (USA) – @lcfremont checks out James Cullen Bressack’s film…

When you grow up in America, there is a very specific cocoon of safety and worldly unconsciousness that not everyone realizes that they possess. That is, until they travel to another country where this very specific brand of entitlement and willful ignorance does not play well with others and that’s exactly why putting silly Americans in the middle of a country where they do not speak the language or understand the customs or religions is often a great horror movie set up.

With Pernicious, James Cullen Bressack (To Jennifer, Hate Crime) does just that with three gorgeous girls in Thailand. Hailing from the epicenter of all things superficially American, Los Angeles, Bressack chose three women with the perfect balance of genetic blessings, both physically and mentally. On the surface, we have the tall, leggy blonde, the sexy brunette and the cute, but ditzy sister who have traveled to Thailand as part of a teaching program. The opening of the film is really fun because you get to see a lot of this beautiful country via plane, boat and car. We are immediately aware that Alex, Julia and Rachel are completely out of their element as they navigate all of this travel in mini skirts and high heels. The cherry on top of the ignorance cupcake, though, is when Rachel takes an amulet out of a spirit house. Or, “that little dollhouse” that is placed outside of the house they’re staying at. Played by Jackie Moore, Emily O’Brien and Ciara Hanna, respectively, our girls are easy to settle in with and root for. There are a few blunders with the acting, especially towards the end, but the very actress that I found hard to take seriously is the same one who won Best Actress at the Underground Monster Carnival, so, what do I know.

As the ladies uncover the furniture in their house, they pull a bloodied sheet off of a small, golden statue of a girl; a Kumari. Although the word Kumari seems to be originally from the culture of Nepal, specifically referring to a young girl, in Pernicious it refers to the vengeful spirit of a murdered child. The details of this ritual are especially heinous and Bressack films it with just the right amount of visual information. Where he doesn’t display any kind of modesty is in the torture scene. A straight up homage to Hostel, the girls indulge in a little bit of torture and it’s glorious. While it’s hard to buy that these girls would take home random strangers that had been following them earlier in the day, it is a necessary evil in order to see some serious gore. The ladies are clearly under the influence of an other worldly spirit and this just makes the violence that much more unsettling. Mr. Bressack’s films usually deliver on practical effects and Pernicious definitely lets the blood run freely.

Scene from Pernicious

As a filmmaker who has always been vocal about his love of Oldboy, you can see the Korean and Japanese influences in the film as well. Especially when the Kumari begins to physically come after the girls. We’ve all seen the small girl with the long hair lurking in closets and under bed sheets, but the Kumari is gold from head to toe and it is quite a sight. The moments where she is antagonizing the girls are some of my favorite moments in the movie. They are truly suspenseful and genuinely scary.

We have a fun story, great gore and likable characters. What else do we need, right? How about a little bit of humor. Some of the humor feels forced, but there are golden bits of eye winking humor that really work. I’m thinking specifically of a moment involving the abrupt end of a Skype chat. In fact, every time it feels the film is beginning to take itself too seriously, something comes up that lightens the tone.

As a female horror fan who rarely chooses to be upset or irritated by gratuitous nudity I am compelled to give a big Mazel Tov to Mr. Bressack for not unclothing any of our actresses. Now, don’t get too upset because the ladies are certainly allowed to show off their trim bodies, but it is done via clothing. Some girls really do wear those short, skimpy dresses out on the town and most women do,indeed, wear tank tops and short shorts while lounging around the house, meaning, all of the eye candy in the movie comes from a place of realism.There is even a scene where a lesser director would have taken the opportunity to have these girls naked, but Alex, Julia and Rachel are never treated as less than humans and their strength is never underestimated. Women are people. Imagine that.

With a knowing eye, an abundance of love and respect for the genre and a reverence for women that seems to be in short supply of late, Pernicious is Bressack’s finest movie to date and more than that, it’s good. It’s one of those rare horror films where the set up for a sequel makes you happy and not irritated.

Lisa Fremont

Twitter: @lcfremont

Images: IMDb &

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