DreadWorld Review: Pernicious (2015)


James Cullen Brassack made waves with among other films, the balls to the wall, end of the world, demon filled, film 13/13/13. One word that was never used to describe that film was restraint. So it's with curious interest that I took a gander at Brassack latest film (one of like 30 it seems he's working/worked on over the last couple of years) Pernicious, a very Asian inspired ghost story set in Thailand. Traditionally, Asian ghost stories have been rather reserved, muted affairs, built on ambiance and mood, rather than blood an gore. So how would Brassacks vision of the traditional Asian ghost story hold up? Let's take a look:

We start how most American based Asian ghost stories are supposed to start - with 3 impossibly beautiful twenty somethings moving into a suitably creepy house, this one in the Bangkok suburbs. Two blond sisters Alex (Clara Hanna) and Rachel (Jackie Moore) are joined by brunette Julia (Emily O'Brien - who is British in real life, something that becomes apparent only when she's screaming). They are set to start a volunteer job teaching English in Bangkok, but first there is much partying to be done and ancient rituals to defile.

The three lovely ladies meet three sufficiently skeevy British dudes at a Thai bar and decide the prudent thing to do would be to take them home and have sex with them. Things fly off the handle when somehow 10 minutes of an early 2000's "torture porn" film finds it's way into the films final assembly. The girls kill the three British dudes and wake up the next morning like nothing happened. Of course it's an Asian ghost story so it's not too long before creepy things start happening to each of the girls.

Pernicious starts falling into a pretty paint by numbers Asian haunting flick around the halfway point. The film recycles most of the common themes from these type of films - wronged children, family honor, amulets, curses, witches, restless spirits - you know the drill. Unlike most Asian inspired ghost stories, Pernicious goes out of it's way to explain exactly what is happening. Unfortunately, when it does it brings the narratives momentum to a complete stop at the beginning of the third act. Up until that happens the film is really building some tension. It's unfortunate that by the time the extra long exposition is over with that momentum is quelled.

Brassack does a great job of showcasing Thailand as a character in the film. He shows a particular flair for using the environments he's given and using them to help build tension. Some of his establishing shots are down right gorgeous and Pernicious certainly is wonderful looking film on the whole. The overriding problem with Pernicious isn't with it's aesthetic, it's with it's pacing and it's script.

I mentioned it above, but the act break exposition at the top of the third act is odd and kills any momentum the film had going for it. I understand the need for clarity, but a little mystery would have been to the films benefit. The other problem with the pacing is the curiously placed murder of the British guys. I know why Brassack and Co-writer Taryn Hillin chose to have the scene there. It felt like something needed to happen at the at point of the film. But I wonder if there was another way to get an audience reaction there. Perhaps starting the ghost story build, creepy house things and that sense that something is not right that eventually culminates with the murders rather than having the murders being the first symptoms would have given the murders more significance and plot heft.

The three lead girls suffer from that very problem - all three are the lead girls depending on which scene you may happen to be watching. Early on its Julia who takes the lead, making decisions and pushing the plot forward. Suddenly, during the second act Julia shrinks to the background and Rachel, who had occupied the slutty blond spot in the group, moves to the forefront. Finally, in the the third act Rachel is usurped power wise by Alex, who was the ditsy one up until that point. Now to be fair Alex taking control of the group has some plot validity, but switching Julia with Rachel just feels weird. Now usually I'm a huge advocate of breaking stereotypes in films, especially when it comes to with way women are treated. However in this situation it just feels like any of the lines could have been spoken by any of the three leads at any one time. None of them really had a distinct voice or character. They are just sort of there.


Pernicious has all the makings of a terrible film: familiar, rehashed plot, soulless characters, odd pacing choices - it's all there. Yet Brassack somehow manages to turn some of the chicken shit back into chicken salad. Most of that is done in the first two acts when he really makes the film visually exciting and unpredictable. It's a shame the third act of the film gets bogged down in exposition and loses what momentum it had because Pernicious really had a chance to be a pretty good film.

** and 1/4 stars out of *****

That's it for me. As always, thanks for reading and "Enjoy every sandwich." 

1 comment:

  1. Do I spend my time watching it or not?I come here because IMDb is unreliable.You know,the reviews are about other people's reviews,and how phony there are if they don't agree with the poster!If I do watch it,I may be back depending on if I'm still awake.

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