NEW TO TUBI! The foreigner/outsider/tourist travelling in a different country and becoming haunted by a restless spirit steeped in ancient folklore is practically its own genre. From Seventh Moon and Ouija Japan to An American Werewolf In London and The Grudge, the trope’s been around almost as long as cinema itself. Well, James Cullen Bressack throws his hat into the ring with Pernicious. Does the writer/director, along with co-writer Taryn Hillin, add anything to such an oft-told story?
Sisters Alex (Ciara Hanna) and Rachel (Jackie Moore), along with their friend Julia (Emily O’Brien), head to Thailand for the summer to teach English. The level-headed Julia is gung ho about this opportunity to not only experience another country’s culture but get some teaching credits. The siblings are less enthused but go with the plan to see Thailand and be with their friend. Outside of their accommodations, set up through the education program, the trio spot a spirit house and discover a life-sized gold statue of a little girl inside.
After some shopping and clubbing, Alex, Rachel, and Julia all share a nightmare in which they are torturing some British fellows they met at the bar. But, as more and more inexplicable and eerie things happen around them, the friends discover that a spirit is trapped in that gold statue, and it seeks vengeance. Did they accidentally awaken the evil soul? How does the trio fit into the malevolent entity’s plan?
There are a few plotholes present in the narrative of Pernicious that prevent it from being perfect. Most of the issues revolve around the evil causing havoc and tormenting the three friends. Once all is revealed, it makes little sense that it’d be so focused on them, especially since they woke it up (not really a spoiler, because how else would the spirit begin its tortuous reign?). Then there are questions about who actually woke it up, which feels like it should be a much bigger plot point than it becomes. But, again, trying not to spoil things, so…
“…the friends discover that a spirit is trapped in that gold statue, and it seeks vengeance.”
With that out of the way, this horror tale has a lot going for it. For starters, Seo Mutarevic’s cinematography is stunning. The Thai countryside is gorgeously captured, serving as a wonderful juxtaposition to the horrific events happening. The editing, courtesy of Daniel Duncan, is superb, balancing character beats and ominous moments with ease, so the tension never lets up once it begins. Plus, Bressack manages to craft some genuine scares throughout, especially during the women’s investigation into the statue and a little girl seemingly appearing and disappearing at random.
The cast of Pernicious is the glue that holds it together. Ciara Hanna, aka the Yellow Megaforce Ranger, is really good as Alex. Without spoiling things, she gets a monologue near the end, and she delivers every creepy line with conviction. As her on-screen sister, Moore is good, especially during the more lighthearted/party-centric scenes. Unfortunately, though, some of her lines come across a tad rushed at times. Emily O’Brien ably complements her co-stars by remaining level-headed while still allowing the overwhelming nature of what her character experiences to get through.
However, it is Wallop Terathong, as elderly neighbor Sang, who walks away with the film. He is brilliant in his small but pivotal role, going from confused to scared to remorseful in the blink of an eye. It is pretty memorable, and the actor sells it wonderfully.
The screenplay for Pernicious tells an eerie tale that is wonderfully brought to life by the cast. Add to that the excellent cinematography, constant tension, and outstanding score by Steven Bernstein, and this indie feature has all the ingredients of a good horror flick. Bressack has mixed them into a tasty creepy souffle that genre fans will want to return to time and time again.
"…a tasty creepy souffle..."