Venturing into your local DVD shop is often a mission that results in frustration and wasted time. More often than not I leave either empty-handed or with a film I’ve seen before. I don’t want to risk two hours of my time that results in a film not worthy of any consideration. Such was NOT the case with The Seasoning House. I took a rare punt on an unknown entity and was rewarded in spades with a film that had me glued to my seat and, at times, shocked to my core. It’s not an easy view, and nor SHOULD it be, especially given the subject matter but if you give your time, you will be rewarded. Director Paul Hyett has crafted a wonderfully tense and terrifically acted thriller that all readers of Love & Pop should check out immediately.
Crimson Celluloid: Whist not technically a “horror” film The Seasoning House was one of the most intense films I’ve seen for a long time, bringing back memories of seeing Last House on the Left and Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the first time. Was it always your intent to make it an intense and uncomfortable film to sit-through?
Paul Hyett: Oh yes, I always wanted it to be a harrowing experience, I love how Chainsaw Massacre had this feeling of oppression and uncomfortableness right from the beginning, just the environment made your skin crawl, and I wanted that straight from the start, and like TCM, not to let up, that the main character Angel could never feel safe, nor could the audience, just keeping that palpable tension going all the way through and to make sequences (rape and violence), to be what they are, messy, brutal, nasty acts of violence, no glamorous Hollywood style fights, just messy and horrifically raw.
Crimson Celluloid: Even though it’s a film, and I know the dynamics of that, were you concerned about putting such a young actress as Rosie Day through the emotional and physical wringer?
Paul Hyett: I spoke to all the young girls in the film and especially Rosie, emotionally it’s a subject matter that all the girls wanted to tackle, as its something that girls their age would be going through, and tragically because they live in another country. But also I was very open with the fact that this wasn’t going to be a cheap exploitative splatter movie with no nudity (which I’ll answer properly in your later question) , so they all felt comfortable. I think the crew found it harder to watch, the actresses in the film wanted to do justice to the real victims and portray and somehow try to imagine the horrors of what those girls go through. Rosie was the youngest and I was worried about her being so young, but firstly physically, she is hard as nails, she was being thrown into mirrors, falling off walls, climbing with harnesses, being thrown into maggot infested mud pits, being slapped (by accident within a stunt scene), just everyday was something gruelling for her, but she was amazing, never once complained, just got on with it, ignored the bruises and came with a smile everyday. Emotionally, it was harder, as she had to put herself in the world of a real mute, witness her friend being raped and murdered, understanding what its like to witness and experience those horrors, for any good actress that can take herself to such an emotional place its an emotional journey, let alone one as young as Rosie, but she did, and thankfully came out the other end not at all traumatised. As a side note when we first gave her the part she hadn’t seen any horror movies, so I gave her Marytrs, Inside, Frontiers to watch over the Christmas period before shooting, maybe not the best horrors to start someone off with, in retrospect maybe I should build up to those, but Rosie is a tough girl, she had to be with the role she was about to take on.
Crimson Celluloid: Was there a rehearsal period? How did you prepare her for her role in the film?
Paul Hyett: Rosie and I talked endlessly about the part, emotionally where Angel would be and the very long journey, from the beginning as a care free Balkan girl, through to the kidnapping, the emotional move into a numbed shell of a captive living in a place that the only way to survive is by shutting off your feelings, your empathy, trying to numb yourself to the horrors around you, and then the re-emergence of her feelings when she meets her friend Vanya, and then the feeling of her fight back, which is a cathartic out pouring of everything she had been through all exploding in one go, then the switch to pure survival. Rehearsal wise, I’m not a fan of rehearsing, I prefer to speak endlessly about the character, do read throughs (to work out dialogue) and then on set, in this dark dingy environment, block out the scene and go with what the actors were feeling with their emotions, in the heat of the moment, I prefer this technique then rehearsing days or weeks before, I felt we got a more realistic performance and feel to the scene.
Crimson Celluloid: I was surprised that given the subject-matter there was no nudity (Female nudity. Male nudity doesn’t count!) in the film. Without getting all Freudian was this a deliberate decision..to not exploit characters that are already being exploited?
Paul Hyett: Yes, I so wanted this not to be a cheap boobs out exploitative horror movie. I felt it would have cheapened it. But most of all I didn’t want it to be titillating, I wanted the rape scenes to be what defines rape, that it is an act of brutal violence and nothing more then that. What those girls go through all over the world’s conflict zones and civil wars is unspeakably tragic, and I (and the girls) were always very mindful of that, not to cheapen what these girls go through. And we had a great response from so many critics and reviewers that we handled in that delicate way. However you can’t please anyone and I read reviews that dismissed the film as exploitative which always annoyed me as we had tried not to be that, but I think some just feel you can’t mix an exciting harrowing horror thriller with real horrific events that are happening to real people, that we should have made a film that explores that world without the thriller aspect, but it wasn’t what we wanted to do, we always wanted to make a nail biting thriller set in the real world of sex trafficking but in a non exploitative way, and personally I think we succeeded.
Crimson Celluloid: What parts of the filmmaking process do you enjoy the most/least?
Paul Hyett: I love the preparation period and working out all the logistics of how its going to look, really getting the narrative structure in my head, developing characters with cast and then physical shooting of it, and bringing it to life on the set and seeing it come together, the actors bonding and developing their characters further, seeing the crew proud of their work and the vision of the film starting to emerge as we go through the weeks of shooting. The least part is waiting for money to come through and getting that green light, it’s always a hard process, but great when it happens.
Crimson Celluloid: The always-effective Sean Pertwee was great in the film. How did he come to be cast? What was he like to work with?
Paul Hyett: I’ve known Sean for years and in my former career as a prosthetics designer, killed him on screen many, many times. As I was writing this I thought he would be great. So I sent him the script and he loved it, he just wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to an exploitive, cheap horror shocker and misogynistic in anyway, and once I had assured him in those areas he was totally on-board. And he was an ABSOLUTE pleasure (as he always is), he brought so much to it, and really got deep under the skin of his character, and who it would be based on, and everyday, he really nailed it, I couldn’t praise him enough. I was really lucky to have a cast that gave 110% and really pushed themselves emotionally and physically to portray their characters.
Crimson Celluloid: For a relatively low-budget film the scenes of bloodshed and gore were remarkably effective, often coming out of the blue and having a real impact. Your background in FX certainly served you well. What kind of reactions have you received from people who have witnessed the carnage?
Paul Hyett: People do freak out at the effects, but I really didn’t want much gore in this, like I said earlier it was more about the oppressive feeling to this world, the overall tone of dread, there’s actually very little blood and gore in the film, but when we had it, I wanted it to be as nasty, brutal and shockingly real as it could be. And yes, my background really helped, but also the VFX guys (Filmgate in Sweden) done an amazing job with enhancing the prosthetic gore, its very hard digitally to create blood realistically, but they did a wonderful job, people have come out shocked and shaking and some had to leave the cinema because it was too much for them, which meant I did my job properly. I even had people say it was the goriest film they’ve ever seen, and considering how little gore there is, meant that little amount of gore had such an effect on them, because they were so invested in the film.
Crimson Celluloid: Where did the title come from?
Paul Hyett: It’s a true life term, when the writers and I were trying to think of a title for the film based in a Seasoning House, it kind of was starting us in the face. We suddenly looked at each other and said ‘ Let’s just call it The Seasoning House!’. For anyone reading this that is not familiar with the title, it is a term for these places that young (kidnapped and trafficked) girls are taken to be sexualised and prepared for forced sex slavery and prostitution.
Crimson Celluloid: Were there any particular challenges that you faced whilst making the film?
Paul Hyett: Not really, I’m so used to film sets, nothing was a surprise, I mean we were a very low budget film, trying to be very ambitious, so the lack of money was always there, but somehow my producer Michael Riley always made sure I had everything I needed, I had a brilliant cast and crew, so I didn’t feel particularly challenging, I suppose shooting a film with so many stunts, fights, emotionally challenging scenes, complex VFX / prosthetic elements, etc in a 4 and a half week shoot was most challenging.
Crimson Celluloid: What did you learn from making The Seasoning House that you’ll take forward with you to your next project?
Paul Hyett: Just to be as prepared as you can be, storyboards, script notes, shot lists, and to have in your mind what could come up and have to deal with. And to cast well, good cast are worth their weight in gold. As are a good crew..
Crimson Celluloid: Was it just me or was the ending of the film open to interpretation as to whether Angel had finally escaped hell or not?
Paul Hyett: Yeah, I like ambiguous endings, maybe the old Doc saved her, maybe he didn’t, who knows, I like the audience to make up their own mind..
Crimson Celluloid: You seem to have a roster of films coming up this year. What’s next for you?
Paul Hyett: Well I’ve just finished my next movie, a werewolf film called Howl, its about a bunch of late night commuters on the last train out, and after an incident, they find themselves trapped on the train, stranded in the middle of nowhere, and then creatures attack. We’re just in post production now. It’s a very VFX heavy movie, and its coming along together well. Can’t wait to show it to you guys..
Crimson Celluloid: Thanks very much for an amazing film experience, and I can’t wait to see what you come up with next. Any final words for our readers?
Paul Hyett: Thank you soo much, I just want to say thank you to everyone who watched the film and shared and recommended it, for such a small little indie film, we have had such an amazing response, and especially the horror community really took it under their wing and really pushed it out there by great word of mouth and I’m very much unendingly appreciative of that.