Movie Review – Pernicious (2015)

Pernicious (2015) is a Thai-American production directed by James Cullen Bressack, who wrote the story with Taryn Hillin. Shot completely in Thailand, the story follows three attractive American women who arrive in the country to do volunteer work and who find a mysterious gold statue of a little girl in their rented house (a pretty nice property for volunteers, I might add). Soon the statue disappears and the girls experience violent dreams and come to be haunted by the statue.

Pernicious was a frustrating experience. It combines J-horror supernatural aesthetics with graphic gore, to mixed success. There were elements that I felt were done very well, such as the unexpected torture scenes. It’s very rare that an effect will have me cringing, but there’s one involving teeth that had my gaze turning ever-so-slightly away from the screen. While there were many predictable jump scares, they were executed well. Also, the idea of the gold statue coming to life was novel.

However, there were many other areas where the film falters. The lead actresses play well off each other, even if they’re prone to overacting, but their dialogue is often childish. The story itself is decent, but it’s execution awkward, with odd choices being made such as a character deciding to run full speed after a random little girl they’ve just met on the street who asks them to follow her. (Here’s a travel tip: if you’re in a foreign country where you’re obviously not a local and some stranger tells you to follow them to a remote location without witnesses, even if it’s a kid, do not do it.) I was never convinced that these girls were traveling, and the location shooting was underutilized – we never get a feel for Thailand, which is unfortunate. When the origin of the ghost is revealed, it is done so in an overly long, convoluted flashback. Also, the ghost aspects are simply rehashes of what we’ve seen before – one scene involving a ghost beneath the covers is a direct copy of Ju-on: The Grudge (2002). And Bressack even gives us another bathroom medicine cabinet jump scare. The errors in spelling and punctuation in the subtitles didn’t help either, particularly when they decide to disappear altogether before dialogue can be completed. In the end, the shortcomings and retreads can’t overcome the few unique aspects to be found in Pernicious.

Grade: D+

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