Film reviews

Unearth – Grimmfest 2020

Directed by John C. Lyons (Schism, Bogo) and Dorota Swies, Unearth is an aggressively dull and boring film. Clocking in at 93 minutes, it is literally an hour dead before anything that could be considered even slightly horrific actually happens in this film that advertises itself as a horror movie. One. Whole. Hour.

The first sixty minutes are filmed with the utter tedium of not particularly likeable people having really bad lives while also managing to not be interesting enough for the audience to care about. Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Escape from New York) plays Kathryn Dolan, the ageing matriarch of her family, and she is… grumpy. Grumpy, angry, stubborn and that’s pretty much all that defines her. Marc Blucas (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Underground) plays George Lomack, who is also grumpy and depressed – and other than being a mechanic those remain his primary traits. Allison McAtee’s (Californication, Iron Man) character Christina Dolan is really the only one who stands out from the rest. She married into the Dolan family but has dreams of becoming a successful photographer.

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So what is the story of Unearth? Two families have adjoining farms, both of them down on their luck, just barely scraping by, teetering on the edge of losing everything. One day a gas company representative comes knocking at George Lomack’s door and with everything slowly collapsing around him, he makes the choice to sell his land to the gas company.

Cut to a year later, the gas company has set up and is conducting loud, noisy and dusty fracking operations.  Both families are still poor and miserable but now they’re a year older, a year poorer and a year more miserable. The drilling hits something creepy and gooey beneath the ground and the film implies that this leads to the water for both families becoming tainted with… something that eventually leads to mayhem breaking loose. It’s never explained what it is, but the final half hour of the film does lean quite heavily into the body horror aspect of things so consider yourself warned.

What does this film do right? It’s a short, short list. The soundtrack from composer Jane Saunders is a thing of ominous, menacing beauty, putting me in mind of work from Nick Soule and Hildur Guðnadóttir. It doesn’t currently appear to be available to listen to on any of the usual streaming services, but it can be pre-ordered through her personal website.

This movie joins Astro and Climax as one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. It can’t even claim to be technically well made. While it is competently shot for the most part, it is unrelentingly BROWN in every way. The characters, the countryside, the homes, everything just dull and brown till you struggle to tell which house is which and who belongs to what family. When things finally do kick off and the bodies begin to mount and, y’know, THE HORROR shows up in this horror film, the camera operator decides that the best way to convey the action is to sway the camera madly around the place so that you only get a fleeting glimpse of what’s going on. During one scene a character gets shot, and thanks to them all wearing similar clothes and the camera being too busy trying to observe the transit of Venus, I have no clue which character it was.

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This film feels like an insult. An insult to the time of anyone who watches it. Not only does it take an hour to get to anything of any real interest, the ending is vague and unsatisfying. There’s no resolution here, no climax, nothing at all. The film peters out with a strange tracking shot following a delivery of corn along with some ominous music. Is it trying to imply something is still wrong at the farm? Who knows! What actually happened to people? Who knows! What happened with the fracking? WHO KNOWS? Does the movie care that it ends with a ton of unanswered questions on top of a dull, meaningless plot that goes nowhere? Fuck no!

It’s been a long time since a film made me this angry, since a film left me feeling insulted, feeling that it didn’t value my time or my intelligence or even good storytelling. Unearth manages this. Don’t waste your time with this film. There are so many better ways to spend 93 minutes of your life.

Unearth is playing at Grimmfest, which runs from the 7th to the 11th of October 2020. You can find our Grimmfest coverage here.

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