When I was growing up, my mom taught me a lot of survival skills: never go to a second location, always exude an air of take-no-shit confidence, and never, ever go out into the wilderness alone. Especially not a desert. Some people were never taught that last one, or they were and decided that it didn’t apply to them. The unnamed protagonist in THE SEEDING is one of those people.
We meet The Man (Scott Haze) as he’s wrapping up a solo photo shoot in a desert. On the way back to his car, he comes across a young, unaccompanied boy who tells him that he lost his parents. The Man, in a well-intentioned but ill-advised move, tries to help him. The kid lures him farther into the desert, gets him lost, and abandons him without a trace. Night falls. The Man is tired and lost, and without cell service, water, or shelter. He hears some human-made noises and follows them, ending up at the edge of a deep pit in which a shack stands.
So he climbs down two ladders into this pit.
Residing in the shack is a quiet young woman, who offers him food and shelter for the night. Come morning, one of the ladders has disappeared, leaving him unable to climb out; The Woman (Kate Lyn Sheil), is utterly unhelpful and not at all empathetic to The Man’s predicament. To make matters worse, a gang of feral men and boys have taken to amusing themselves by viciously tormenting The Man from above the pit.
Written and directed by Barney Clay, THE SEEDING has the makings of a riveting horror film. There’s a dangerous situation, isolation, human brutality, and an atmosphere of mystery. Unfortunately, it falls flat. Throughout the film, narrative inconsistencies and logical gaps abound. The Woman and The Guys are presumed to have been raised in isolation, and yet they all seem to have knowledge and understanding of some cultural points from the outside world.
For example, one of The Guys wears a skirt and a long wig and simulates a sex act on The Man during one of the attacks. Looking past the transphobia and homophobia, the sequence is just confusing. Why would it occur to someone raised away from mainstream civilization to do this? Without a social background marred by white, Christian colonization, how would this Guy know to do this to make The Man feel threatened and uncomfortable? There’s also a scene where we learn that The Woman has never heard of a cheeseburger, but she somehow knows what radios, cars, and cameras are.
The scenes of violence are well-executed, but many of them are too long and make the rest of the film lag. There are elements of folk horror, mythological imagery, and allusions to classics like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, but they only exist as background noise. There’s an ominous bit of foreshadowing present from the very beginning of the film that seems to promise something delightfully gruesome but then doesn’t. There’s no payoff, which is even more disappointing because it serves as yet another inconsistency.
Still, there are some things that I loved about THE SEEDING. The setting of the desert was the perfect choice for the story, the cinematography, done by Robert Leitzell, was gorgeous, and each cast member gave strong and memorable performances. Haze’s portrayal of his character’s mental and emotional disintegration swings from gut-wrenching to infuriating; Sheil’s quietly intense depiction of The Woman is both sympathetic and deeply frightening. The Guys, played by Thatcher Jacobs, Michael Monsour, Aarmon Touré, Alex Montaldo, and Charlie Avink, are entertainingly horrifying in their cruel and chaotic roles. Also in the cast are Christa Atkins and Chelsea Jurkiewicz, who also shine throughout.
Despite its shortcomings, THE SEEDING is an engaging film that will keep you on edge throughout and also serves as a cautionary tale of what can happen if you wander into the wilderness by yourself.
THE SEEDING had its world premiere at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival.
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