REVIEW: Unearth (2020) – Grimmfest 2020 Online Edition

dir. John. C. Lyons & Dorota Swies.

Life has been hard on rural mechanic George (Marc Blucas): his wife’s left him, their teenage daughter’s just had a baby and with customers going to big franchise garages he’s struggling to make ends meet. Things aren’t much better for his neighbours the Dolans, headed by matriarch Kathryn (scream queen Adrienne Barbeau). Tirelessly working to try and get a higher crop yield, they too are slipping further into poverty. There’s a pall of depression – both economic and psychological – hanging over them all.

Billed as a “fracking horror story”, it’s clear that when gas corp Patriot Exploration comes knocking on George’s door they won’t be the financial salvation he so desperately needs. Offering cash to buy his land – as well as regular royalty cheques – George signs up, despite the Dolan’s chagrin. But as the drills bore deeper into the ancient rock, something else may be lying dormant in the ground.

The choking smog of social deprivation is so thick in Lyons and Swies’ eco-fable that, when the final act starts to hit more fantastical Lovercraftian beats, its a relief. The real horror here is less the inexplicable earth-dwellers but rather the monstrous capitalism that grinds working class Americans into the dust. Both are parasitic, the cool calculation of human business mirrored in the amoral indifference of the subterranian infection.

Although there’s blessed relief when things cut loose from the cloying social realism in a frenetic final act, the lensing is frequently chaotic, endless shaky-cam obscuring character motivations and leading to a muddled denouement. The grim inevitability is still clear however: a natural world which favours predators can mean only one thing for the prey.

Tim Coleman

UNEARTH has its UK premiere at Grimmfest 2020 Online Edition on 8th October 2020.

Published by Tim Coleman

Film critic. Screenwriter. Academic.

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