Saturday 18 March 2023

Shudder Saturday: Unearth (2020)

It seems as if I cannot let a week go by now without giving some time to horror movies best described as hallucinatory, and Unearth is another that could be categorised that way. Described as "a fracking horror story", and featuring a small role for Adrienne Barbeau, I decided to be optimistic as I pressed play on this. 

The plot is quite simple. Two neighbouring families seem to be at polar opposites when it comes to peace and prosperity. When an oil and gas company comes around with an offer for some of their land, one family rejects them immediately while the other takes them up on what they think could be a lifeline. Things start to sour some time later, with something being released from under the earth that affects the minds of those living in the vicinity of the drilling.

Directed by Dorota Swies and John C. Lyons, with the latter also having co-written the script with Kelsey Goldberg, Unearth is an interesting near-miss of a film. It's not bad, and the gloomy and foreboding atmosphere throughout is nicely crafted, but it just lacks enough time spent with the right characters, meaning that the third act feels disappointingly devoid of any real stakes, simply because we still don't get enough of a connection with those put in peril.

Barbeau is good in her small role, and her family unit allows for decent turns from P. J. Marshall, Allison McAtee, and Monica Wyche. They are the family without any major problems, initially. Marc Blucas heads up the family barely holding things together, and he's also doing good work here, accompanied by Brooke Sorenson, and Rachel McKeon. You might think that seven central characters wouldn't lead to the problem I just described in the last paragraph, but the writers get the balance just a bit wrong, spending too much time with a couple of characters who take longer than some other people to realise that things are getting strange and dangerous.

There's some good horror imagery here, and at least one moment that is about as dark and disturbing as you can imagine, but those moments feel, for the most part, sadly disparate and inorganic (ironically). Despite the localised nature of the horror, the relationship between the characters and the geography of the area isn't always clear, and it's only during the end credits that viewers are shown an extra reason to be concerned about how things may work out.

I feel that I've just written a few paragraphs here balancing positive and negative comments, but that's how the film made me feel. It's technically well-made, the cast work in their roles, and the main idea is good enough. It's just frustrating to see fleeting moments of excellence undermined by minor niggles and flaws that I suspect could have been easily sorted by another one or two passes of the script. I do recommend Unearth. It's a good film. It could have been much better though.


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