Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Pernicious feels like bad porn with the sex taken out."

In a genre which is always searching for new monsters, it makes a certain amount of sense to raid the traditions of other cultures to find them. Done well, this can be educational and give non-monstrous aspects of those cultures some visibility. Pernicious was shot in Thailand with a largely Thai crew, and it does make the country look pretty, but its cultural perspective is curiously skewed, its central plot mixing up the Nepalese Kumari tradition with what seems to be a type of hong phrai. The real horrors of the latter tradition are submerged in a tide of formulaic American gloss, and its clumsy attempts to satirise the American abroad only make it seem more hopelessly adrift.

Moody brunette Julia (Emily O'Brien) and identikit blondes Alex and Rachel (Ciara Hanna and Jackie Moore) have travelled to Thailand to teach English, though they barely speak a word of Thai and one doubts they can read past primary level in their native language. They're staying in one of those enormous empty houses that the genre so often depends on, and alternate between giggling and bitching about everything in sight. In scenes that could only have been written by a man, they get followed by a group of guys in the nearby town and then let the same guys get them drunk in a nightclub later, subsequently teleporting home so we don't need to ask how they managed to drive. What happens after that is very unpleasant indeed (it will satisfy the gore fans, at least for a while) and seems caught up with their earlier discovery of a golden statue which, the next day, has mysteriously vanished. Naturally, this is only the beginning of their troubles.

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Writer/director James Cullen Bressack tries to walk the line between drama and comedy but his gait is wildly uneven, so the viewer is often left unsure if they're supposed to be laughing or cringing in embarrassment at the awful acting on display. Everything is ratcheted up to 11 with practically no let-up, so there's zero opportunity for real tension to develop - if the strings aren't pulling you in one direction, the incessant shrieking which seems to be the women's main form of communication will be pulling you in the other. By the time they start to develop some spine, any sympathy we may once have had for them is long gone - they're the most obnoxious bunch of tourists since Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre, but without the self awareness. Oh no! screams the film. Shock! Horror! Over here! But we don't care.

With lots of running about between different unlikely scenarios connected by the flimsiest of dialogue, Pernicious feels like bad porn with the sex taken out. If horror fans weren't already sick to death of the Scary Little Girl in all her incarnations, there's only one thing they could really ask for from this film's spirit, and that's to hurry up and get the killing over with faster.

Reviewed on: 23 May 2015
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Three young American women visiting Thailand fall foul of a vengeful hong phrai.

Director: James Cullen Bressack

Writer: James Cullen Bressack

Starring: Ciara Hanna, Emily O'Brien, Jackie Moore, Jack Prinya

Year: 2015

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US, Thailand


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