The word “pernicious” has a few similar meanings: causing insidious harm, deadly, evil. In the movie that carries the name Pernicious, the word is an apt fit for the spirit of a little girl; murdered by her family and out for revenge with almost nothing to stop her from drawing blood (a lot of blood). With a mix of classic supernatural “jump scares”, Grudge-inspired creepiness and gruesome torture, the movie tries to appeal to a variety of horror fans, but the final cut is bland, predictable and only a touch scary; though it’ll probably have some audiences covering their eyes.
The film begins with a brief torture scene which is part of the far-fetched backstory that is filled in later. It then cuts to three American women (Emmy nominated Emily O’Brien, Ciara Hanna, and Jackie Moore) arriving in Thailand for a summer teaching job (revealed thanks to some exposition as the girls are never shown in any teaching capacity). Immediately upon arriving at their summer home, they explore and uncover a golden “life size” statue of a little girl; which contains the vengeful spirit, unbeknownst to the new houseguests.
The ladies are not very likeable to begin with. As tourists, they stroll around acting arrogant and rude to the local citizens; as exemplified when one of them tries to communicate with a shopkeeper (whom she assumed didn’t speak English) by talking louder and slower. This is possibly done for comic effect as the shopkeeper then reveals she does speak English, but this gag is never funny and just makes the character look ignorant. To make matters worse, the ladies identify a couple guys stalking them and then hook up with the same guys at a bar and take them back to the house. It seems like the ladies are on their way to being assault victims after they drink a strange drink from one of the guys and pass out, but an inexplicable twist puts the men in danger with the women inflicting various forms of gruesome torture.
The torture scenes aren’t for the faint of heart; they are very graphic. I have never really been a fan of the so called “torture porn” genre, but it can be somewhat fun when watching with an audience. There are some genuinely creepy scenes later on involving a bathtub, a medicine cabinet mirror, a closet, and bedcovers. It’s all the classics that play out fairly predictably; but they are done well enough to give the audience chills. I would not have minded seeing more of those types of scenes and less of the torture.
Despite the talent involved, including writer/director James Cullen Bressack, an Emmy nominee, and a former Power Ranger, the acting, ill-conceived plot, and limited substance never fully meshes into a movie that I would recommend wholeheartedly. Overall, pernicious is an ok movie with a cheesy feel, but not a very good cheese; one with an unpleasant aftertaste.