"The Balkans, 1996". Yugoslavia has fallen apart and a bloody war rampages across the land. People are brutalised mercilessly as families are destroyed, properties are seized and lawlessness rules.

Amid this chaos, a group of young women are abducted from their broken homes and carted off to a remote building in the countryside. Here, they are introduced to bearded Viktor (Kevin Howarth), who tells them that he now "owns" them and they are to entertain his male friends without question. Just to prove a point as to what will happen if any of them should attempt to escape, Viktor calls one lady to the front and unflinchingly rams a knife through her throat.

The remaining women are then ushered to their cells by Viktor�s brutish henchman Dimitri (David Lemberg). All, that is, save for a newly orphaned deaf mute who Viktor names Angel (Rosie Day). He is struck by her disability, and the facial birthmark that will no doubt be off-putting for his �customers�, and spares her the fate of the other girls.

Whereas they are shackled to beds and injected with crack in preparation for being raped by passing soldiers looking for a quick fuck between battles, Angel�s task is to wash the girls clean of blood in-between sessions, apply clumsy make-up to their faces and administer more drugs into their bloodstreams.

Perhaps because of her condition, Angel is able to do all of this without question. Viktor keeps her as his bedmate as well as his assistant, building a trust with her while his business prospers as a steady flow of horny soldiers sample his wares nightly.

Over time, Angel develops a friendship with another prisoner, Vanya (Dominique Provost-Chalkley). Vanya, rather conveniently, can speak sign language � and so the girls make a connection. Hiding in crawlspaces in the walls in-between carrying out her tasks, however, Angel observes as Vanya is brutalised again and again (when a medical acquaintance warns Viktor that her pelvis has been broken, he insists she continues to service his customers regardless).

One night a group of soldiers arrive at the house, led by no-bullshit Goran (Sean Pertwee). Angel recognises them as being the ones who gunned down her family in cold blood � seen earlier in the film in flashbacks.

Hiding herself away in the crawlspace once again, Angel visibly starts to tremble with loathing as much as fear. When Goran�s henchman, the huge Ivan (Ryan Bell), begins subjecting Vanya to extreme suffering, Angel finally snaps and a vicious game of cat-and-mouse in the house springs into action.

THE SEASONING HOUSE marks the feature directorial debut of Paul Hyett, best known as the FX artist on a number of noteworthy British genre films such as THE DESCENT, EDEN LAKE and THE WOMAN IN BLACK. He also co-writes the screenplay, based upon an original story by Helen Solomon.

The setting is a potentially interesting one. The Balkan wars are a shocking, shameful chapter in recent history that revealed man�s capacity for real, unconscionable brutality against his fellow man. The fact that this type of thing did really occur in those non-too-distant dark times adds an undeniable punch to proceedings, aided by Paul E Francis� mournful score early on.

Sadly, the wider implications of the war and the affect upon its people are never explored, making the backdrop an interesting but ultimately irrelevant one. For a genre film that comments more convincingly on the Balkan conflicts and the subsequent fall-out, check out THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A PORNO GANG.

I'm not a fan of these modern-day genre films either that take the strange stylistic decision of draining almost all colour from their palette to present their films in a really washed-out manner. Why would they rob their films of natural colour? Answers on a postcard please. Anyway, THE SEASONING HOUSE is one such film and personally I think the look really affects its potential to entertain.

Beyond those quibbles, and the unavoidable fact that Pertwee�s Eastern European accent is shit, THE SEASONING HOUSE is actually worth a watch.

The pace is somewhat languid for the first half, perhaps in an attempt to recreate the drugged-out scenario these girls exist within. The score intentionally has no rhythm, there are lengthy passages without dialogue and even the violence is meted out sparingly (thankfully, the rape scenes are few and are handled quite discreetly � the only nudity on display are the bare bum cheeks of the male rapists).

As well as creating an atmosphere of quiet despair, this restraint also affords us the opportunity to invest some time in the characters. Viktor is a monster from the start, and yet his motivations alter throughout the film. By the time Goran sets his sights on Angel in the third act, you find yourself curiously empathising to a degree with Viktor.

Angel is as strong as she is vulnerable, as innocent as she is conniving � it�s an interesting, perhaps inconsistent character that is nevertheless portrayed excellently by Day. In fact, she and Provost-Chalkley take the top acting honours here: the latter really makes you feel her character�s pain.

The tone is unremittingly bleak throughout; the final thirty minutes are tense, as a beat is introduced to the score and the camera work becomes quicker. The body count is upped here too, with a couple of stand-out moments of expertly executed gore.

A final-minute coda is hackneyed and feels tagged on.

While not an entirely successful film then, as a maiden effort THE SEASONING HOUSE certainly shows that Hyett has promise as a future director.

The disc viewed was an early screener affair complete with a permanent watermark throughout reminding me that it was the property of distributors Sterling Pictures. As such, it's impossible to provide an accurate review of the picture quality per se, but the style of the film (the aforementioned palette; the tracking shots; ambient interior designs) still came across.

English 2.0 audio provided a reliable, problem-free proposition throughout.

There were no extra features, or menus, on the screener disc.

I�ve been unable to ascertain what the retail disc�s specifications will be, in terms of extras etc. I know the film has been passed uncut, so gore fans will be pleased.

THE SEASONING HOUSE is available on both DVD and blu-ray formats from August 12th.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review