Unearth review – ecological horror set in the real world and the one below Little Color out of Space on the Prairie

October 8, 2020
Alix Turner 0
Film, Film Reviews
3

Summary

Ecological horror set amongst struggling farming families. A slow burn domestic drama becomes horror both bodily and Earthy. Great cast, great production, though some may consider the structure uneven.

3

Summary

Ecological horror set amongst struggling farming families. A slow burn domestic drama becomes horror both bodily and Earthy. Great cast, great production, though some may consider the structure uneven.

Unearth presents two established farming families, colleagues for generations, though now both struggling. The Dolan family, led by Kathryn (Adrienne Barbeau, The Fog), sees some potential in pooling the two families’ land and resources; while the Lomack family, led by George (Marc Blucas, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), has been approached by Patriot Exploration, who offers a tempting deal. Kathryn is only able to plead her case via philosophy and loyalty, but to George, what’s best for his family is a complex dilemma. They’ve all heard about some risks of fracking (drilling deep to release natural gas), but it’s only when the drills unleash something unexpected does the risk become real.

Unearth has a lot going for it: daylight, realism, the shock to the gut when it’s good and ready. It’s promoted as “a fracking horror story”, which is certainly correct, though the viewer is made to wait for much that actually looks like horror. There is a wise point to that: at heart, Unearth is a film with a message: that the farming lifestyle is in decline, and that a capitalist organization which seeks to pay for the land is not likely to represent any salvation. Horror is not only to be found in the monstrous but in the entire situation.

I liked Unearth. It wasn’t perfect, but it was very watchable. The time taken over the two families is very worthwhile in my opinion, making the story real, though in a somewhat soap opera way: how many issues and near-scandals can arise in a small area? The film has a deliberately slow pace, again reflecting rural life in decline; though beautiful sunny cinematography from Eun-ah Lee, which adds an air of refusal to give up hope. Directed by John C. Lyons and Dorota Swies, and written by Lyons with Kelsey Goldberg, the film makes full use of a sterling cast and passion for their subject.

And then there’s the horror that genre fans will be waiting for. Creeping up on the Lomacks and Dolans is a vague sense of foreboding throughout the film, that they simply do not know what lies in front of them; or indeed under their feet. Once the frackers get started, symptoms of pollution start to show which actually mirror real-life instances. A point is then reached when the horror becomes physical, shocking, and downright family-unfriendly. I didn’t mind that wait – it made sense, as I’ve argued above – or the slow pace. I struggled with the ending, though: although the “fracking is bad” message was clear, it wasn’t entirely clear (at least to me) what would follow.

Unearth has its UK premiere at Grimmfest on 8 October 2020.


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