“there is a rather intense and almost horrifying moment when Angel is incredibly brutal, but all of it is muted to her (and by extension to us) because she is deaf. It creates a peculiar feeling of detachment from the brutality of the act, as if she is not actually doing it herself but watching someone else.” – 4.25/5
Hopeless, despair, powerless. This is how I would describe the atmosphere of The Seasoning House. A deep sense of sorrow and an even more disturbing acceptance of that sorrow permeates every aspect, every action, every second of the first two acts. It isn’t often that a movie actually moves me, and even less often when one leaves me with lingering feelings long after the credits have rolled.
Angel (Rosie Day) is a deaf, mute girl who is kidnapped by militia, and along with other girls taken to a house run by a man named Viktor. The girls are prostituted to men who come to the house, and in between are kept locked in their rooms. In fact, they never see the outside of their rooms from the time they arrive until their inevitable deaths. However, because of her condition. Viktor takes some pity on Angel (his name for her as she never reveals her real one), and instead of joining the other girls she is given the task of “preparing” them before “guests” arrive. Excessive use of quotations not withstanding, the preparations consist of Angel cleaning the girls up as best she can, putting some makeup on them, and then doping them with Heroin. The drugs are in many ways a blessing for these girls, as I can only imagine it helps dull the pain of the acts performed on them or at least makes it easier for them to bury. But that’s of course wishful thinking.
Almost the entire movie takes place from Angel’s perspective, which means that we hear very little of what’s going on around her. There are many times where only the music and muffled sounds are heard, which only adds to the intense despair one feels right from the onset. Their are exceptions where perspective is broken and we’re allowed to hear what is being said, or jump to other characters interactions but almost all of these take place at least adjacent to Angel. The few flashbacks presented give us some perspective on how she ended up at this place, but little of the surrounding situation and even location are revealed. Honestly though, this information seems trivial and irrelevant to the actual story, which is the story of these girls and the hell they have to live. Hell isn’t even a strong enough description of what they must endure, and to capture in a single word or sentence seems impossible.
Angel does befriend one of the girls who arrives, Violeta (Anna Walton) after she discovers she can sign. She does all she can for Violeta, and once through the vent in the room sees what happens to her when “guests” come. Viktor later dismisses it as ‘He likes to be rough with them. He pays extra.’. Angel moves about pretty freely through walls of the house which gives her access to bring some food to Violeta, and to even have some time in the night to stay with her.
The third act of the movie does play out more like an action movie, with Angel on the run from the militia men who stop to visit the house. But even in this regard The Seasoning House never deviates from its strength, and that is the perspective of Angel. The tenseness of the chase is given even more impact by the realization that she cannot hear; neither those who are chasing her nor how much noise she is making while trying to escape. The director played well to this aspect and made effective use of it without over doing it.
The chase reveals the level of brutality that Angel has come to and is willing to accept, as she resorts to the type of violence that her captors and pursuers make use of. Without spoilers, there is a rather intense and almost horrifying moment when Angel is incredibly brutal, but all of it is muted to her (and by extension to us) because she is deaf. It creates a peculiar feeling of detachment from the brutality of the act, as if she is not actually doing it herself but watching someone else. It is an impressive feat as it typically takes the exact wording I just used to get that point across, and yet it is done almost casually here.
Angel never says a word (out loud) throughout the entirety of the movie and yet we are always aware of what she is thinking and feeling. Nearly all the credit for this goes to Rosie Day for an astonishing portrayal of a broken and beaten girl who finds some remaining strength inside herself. The emotive nature of her facial expressions tells volumes that could not be achieved through copious amounts of dialogue. Rosie does an excellent job with subtle expressions, telling us the inner story of Angel without having to “ham” it up with words or over the top emoting.
The supporting cast do an excellent job as well. Even though only a few have any significant lines, and some never say anything at all which just feels odd at points, they all contribute to the atmosphere of the film. As has been the case for several movies I’ve watched lately, the side characters tend to be less relevant and therefore have more leeway to be static or flat than would be possible in a much more ensemble type of setup. That being said, it did feel a bit peculiar for some characters to be on screen so prominently and repeatedly and never have a line other some minor noises. There were of course some exceptions to this where it seemed perfectly appropriate, but characters like Goran’s (Sean Pertwee) brother never really having a line felt a little off. The switching of the primary antagonist in the third act, while not completely distracting did have the effect of making some of the earlier interactions between Angel and Viktor seem a little irrelevant. Not entirely, but to a moderate degree. In my opinion, Viktor never was the primary antagonist but Goran was, which is likely the way it was intended but with the setup of the movie it did not come across this way.
Which brings me to the ending, which if you’ve read any of my previous reviews you know I often find dissatisfying. Angel’s final interaction with Goran is nearly perfect (even if he was a bit of an idiot for getting into that situation). Her reenactment of her role with the girls with him made for a wonderfully circular, and cathartic, experience. However, the movie continues for another minute or two in which time it manages to leave with me with a bit a of bitter taste in my mouth as it were. It’s not that the open ended nature of it was off putting, but that it lost all sense of closure obtained just moments before. One could point out that this is how life is, and it is certainly never fair or just. In this regard it was well done, but still it somehow just didn’t feel quite right to me, and I find myself wishing it had ended about 30 seconds earlier before the door opened. This, I think, would have been more appropriate.
A sad and soul crushing experience, The Seasoning House is definitely worth watching and possibly watching again. There are so many aspects and details that could be easily missed that a second time through would not be time wasted. Well worth the time to watch, think about and reflect upon, and write about.
4.25/5 (general; I’m including quarters now it seems).