Pernicious fits comfortably into the low-budget schlock horror market, where the script and performances tend to count for a lot less than the buckets of blood thrown at the screen and whatever sort of vicious menace has been conjured up to create said buckets.
For the most part, Pernicious fulfills those expectations. The central trio of Emily O’Brien, Ciara Hanna and Jackie Moore are the sort of spoilt, slightly dim, pretty young things you’d expect to find thrown into the slaughterhouse. The actresses are convincing enough when they’re screaming in terror, but find themselves on less stable ground whenever much emoting is required.
Where Pernicious stands out from the crowd is in its setting and rather unique menace. Filmed on location in Thailand, it explores its own twist on ‘Kuman Thong’, a rather dark slice of Thai folklore which saw foetuses slaughtered and covered in gold leaf to bring good luck. Screenwriter/director James Cullen Bressack here adapts the practice to involve a 7-year-old girl with an almost absurdly tragic backstory, but deftly avoids most of the clichés around the ‘creepy Asian girl’, not least through the spectre’s golden visage.
This is used to powerful effect in the film’s strongest sequence, in which the three girls are each separately terrified by visions of the golden child, making taunting appearances. It’s an entirely bloodless segment, but deftly delivers the film’s biggest scares through tight, claustrophobic camerawork and resisting the temptation to show too much.
If the rest of Pernicious had delivered on the potential offered there, it would be a much stronger film. Unfortunately, Bressack seems to lack confidence in the psychological scares delivered here, and elsewhere resorts to that old staple of the low-budget horror scene: torture porn. The film’s first proper ‘horror’ sequence is little more than sub-Eli Roth bloodshed. Disturbing, and at times difficult to watch, but ultimately unimaginative, and never truly scary.
The limp script and flat performances aside, Bressack clearly has the potential to deliver serious scares on a budget, but an over-reliance on cheap gore limits Pernicious at what should be its most memorable moments. There’s real promise here, but the film never quite delivers on it all.
We hope you're enjoying BRWC. You should check us out on our social channels, subscribe to our newsletter, and tell your friends. BRWC is short for battleroyalewithcheese.