Three nubile American girls arrive in Siam to “teach kids the alphabet,” but this isn’t typical naïve traveler set upon by nasty foreigners territory — it takes a hard left. But that doesn’t mean it’s any good or that we’ve arrived at the right destination.
Pernicious is dumbly titled (was Deleterious already taken?) but smartly circumvents the trope described above. We meet Jules, Alex and Rachel — the latter two blonde bickering hard-partying sisters and the former the level-headed brunette with a TA boyfriend back home. Unfortunately, that’s the only real T or A we get.
Their digs include a rustic mansion in rural Thailand complete with a creepy gold statue of a young girl.
The girls head out for a night on the town and meet up with a group of foreign scuzzbags, and things get hot and heavy back at their digs.
A flask is passed around and we’re meant to conclude they’ve been roofied — but wait! The tables have been turned and it is the unseemly gents who are in a compromising position, held captive and tortured.
We’re in torture porn land, entrails are laid out, eyeballs are gouged and fingernails are clipped off. But is it all a dream? [Editors’ note: tying someone to a chair and subjecting them to all sorts of terror is to horror films what F-bomb laughs are to comedians. They’re cheap and easy. It’s not hard to generate fear that way and pretty lazy]
Anyway, the girls wake up, surmise they’ve been drugged and instead of being concerned about being raped and/or getting a serious STD (or losing their passports), they obsess over the theft of trinkets they’ve brought along as well as the disappearance of the creepy statue.
They try and track it down at a local shop, thinking it’s a valuable antique (“I’ve watched the Antique Road Show!”) and a phantasmagorical little girl leads them deep into the jungle to the home of a witch doctor.
Pernicious is tonally all over the map: part supernatural, part torture porn, part Travel Channel. There’s a medicine cabinet jump scare (we’re literally sick of those) and it’s gradually revealed that it’s the murdered girl (“the golden girl”) depicted in the statue that’s haunting the girls.
Stunningly beautiful to look at, Pernicious succeeds at being an ambitious failure.
** (out of 5)