Written by J. Weagle
Pernicious: having a harmful effect, especially in a gradual or subtle way.
In the early part of the 2000’s the horror genre was filled to the brim with Asian inspired horror cliches thanks to the popularity of films such as Ringu and Ju-On both which would later receive an American remake. I enjoyed some of the films from that time, in fact the remake of The Ring I consider one of the best modern horror films but for the most part there was just a string of forgettable movies.
What Pernicious does is take the trope that all films of that place and time shared (the little girl haunting a place) and mixes in some good old fashion torture and brutality. In theory this should be a recipe for a good time the type of scares that only creepy dead children can bring with the blood and guts of something found in an Eli Roth film. Though on paper this sounds good, the reality is that Pernicious falls flat on both sides and fails to develop into anything interesting.
The story follows a group of three women Alex (Ciarra Hanna), her sister Rachel (Jackie Moore) and their friend, Julia (Emily O’Brien) as they arrive in Bangkok, Thailand to teach schoolchildren English. When they arrive at what will be their new suburban home, the women discover a life-sized gold statue of a girl draped in a bloody sheet in an upstairs room. Little do they know that the statue is something more sinister and holds the soul of Kumari a young girl with a troubled past and now the manifestation of divine female energy.
What comes next is a series of creepy little girl hauntings and processions that lead to brutal (and I do mean brutal) torture scenes involving the three women. Though certainly a low budget affair the look and setting of Pernicious is something to behold and becomes the best part of the movie. The Thailand setting offers a unique feel that does manage to somewhat set the film apart from others like it, and showing lots of landscape shots helps add to the fish out of water vibe it is trying to achieve.
The real issue with the film falls into the hands of the three leads and just how poor and unmemorable their performances and characters are. I’m not putting all of the blame on the actresses however as the script does a terrible job at making us want to care for anyone and it just takes any of the real horror.
Perhaps the real issue with Pernicious is that the whole thing just comes off as trying too hard. There are a handful of cheap scares thrown in that try to emulate the tension that films such as The Grudge offered but they are so forced that they become more laughable then they are scary. Even the torture scenes stink of trying to be the sickest thing you’ve ever seen, when really they often feel unnecessary and completely out of place. I will say however, that the effects are very well done relying on practical over CGI for the most part, it’s just to bad they weren’t part of a better package.
Beyond the distinct beautiful backdrop of Thailand, Pernicious fails on just about every other level. From the uninspired characters with no development, the spastic switch between ghost story and torture porn moments filled with cliches, to the overall feeling of trying too hard, Pernicious isn’t nearly as good as it thinks it is. I’m not about to say don’t bother watching it because it may be worth a cheap laugh and a look at the effects but I would not be surprised if you just get the feeling that you’ve seen this all before.