Pernicious (Movie Review)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

PLOT: Alex, Julia and Rachel are a trio of young American aid workers set for duty in Thailand. When they arrive however, the vengeful spirit of a slaughtered little girl puts a haunting hold on the three nubile sexpots.

REVIEW: 23 year old filmmaker James Cullen Bressack, who made his directorial debut with MY PURE JOY at the age of 18, continues his paltry-budgeted but prolific output with PERNICIOUS, which by our count marks his fifth release to date. Yet, in an unevenly tone-deaf mash-up of Asian ghost-story and grisly torture movie tropes, PERNICIOUS feels more like a light, breezy, forgettable stint of episodic TV than a sufficiently sinister horror yarn. Think The Ghost Whisperer meets the female Supernatural, the worst of. A shame really, because given the gorgeously exotic Thai setting and its rich cultural history of exploring the spiritual afterlife, an opportunity is lost here to allocate such beyond mere nonsensical exposition and stupefying back-story. Sure the gals are pretty to look at, as is the country the film is set in. Hell, there’s even an ultra-gory torture sequence in the middle that’s pretty effective. But for a movie called PERNICIOUS, not much of a lasting fight is put up beyond that.

We kickoff in Bangkok, where we find Julia (Emily O’Brien) and her two blond besties, Alex (Ciara Hanna) and Rachel (Jackie Moore). The trio of lusty young American aid workers are fresh in town for a youth teaching post that begins in a week. But before that starts, it’s f*cking party time. The three lassies are whisked back to their modern but rustic abode in a place, judging by the filming locations, called Ayutthaya. Aside from a mute old man and his male nurse who wander in from the adjacent apartment, the girls are met in their home by an ominous life-sized statue, cast in gold, of a little Thai girl about 8 years old. A harbinger if there ever was one. Oh well, the girls deflect and lighten the mood with a trip to the local pub. Two ogling Brit blokes get lucky after a giant fishbowl-cocktail is served. Back to the house the soiree shifts.

Alas, here’s where things get awfully convoluted. Not only is the statue now mysteriously missing from the house, but instead of a failed date-rape attempt from the greasy blokes ending in the girls’ harmful submission, the tables are turned entirely. Somehow, despite the girls being ruffied, it’s the dudes that end up bound and gagged, and suffice it to say, treated barbarously. But even that winds up translating as an odd, confounding, phantasmagoric dream sequence all three gals share. A unified nightmare. What the f*ck gives? How is all this happening? Is it real? Why? Is the spirit of the little girl from the statue running violently rampant? And where the hell did the damn thing go!

All of these issues are touched upon to various degrees – some glancingly, some droningly – though never to satisfying ends. More often than not, when an attempt to edify is offered, the film gets mucked up and mired down by overwrought exposition and hokey back-stories involving the statue that hardly add up to a damn thing. It’s all filler and burble. A mere killer of time between gory set-pieces, of which there’s only a couple. Speaking of, there’s one particular bout of ickily vile butchery in the film that, while, again, doesn’t really jive within the context of the story as a whole, does deliver on its own. Tongues and Eyeballs friends, that’s all I’ll say on that front.

But one isolated moment is just that…an island of violence amid a sappy sea of Lifetime movie tones and temperaments. Really, there’s a ditzy air of campiness here that for long stretches feels like a fluffy television program, particularly when the girls gauchely trade not-so-witty banter. Emily O’Brien acquits herself well enough though, I thought her performance as Julia was the most believable of the bunch by far. I could see her going off and doing bigger and better things. But really, the actresses aren’t the issue here, it’s the lame-brained script that not only boasts gormless dialogue, it unsuccessfully attempts to meld Asian ghost-horror motifs with that of a brutal trap-and-torture display. Look, I’m all for blending genres and creating wildly new mash-up horror joints, but they have to be done well. It’s hard enough to successfully establish and sustain one tone or subset of horror tenets, let alone combine two grossly dissonant ones. Here the marriage fails, with the result feeling less like an organically contiguous whole and more like a incongruously forced muddle. It just doesn’t work.

However, while I can’t quite endorse PERNICIOUS as a whole, I do appreciate and want to commend the Thai crew that worked on the film. For a low-budget production, the films craftsmanship isn’t the problem. In fact, it’s just as competent as any stateside crew could have achieved. I sure would have liked to see a lot more of the country as a whole, but I think DP Seo Mutarevic did a solid job of capturing the natural beauty of the location in equal measure with the ugly gross-out violence. Technically speaking, the film passes muster. Unfortunately, it’s everything else…the script, stultifying dialogue, ineffectual marriage of a supernatural slasher, and for large stretches, the airily inconsequential TV vibe. These are the things that contribute to the films primary undoing.




Source: AITH

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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.