Editor’s Note: Bloody Good Horror returns to the Fantasia International Film Festival to review some of the fest’s 2020 virtual offerings. If you’re a reader living in Canada, you can find more information about how to watch films and programs here. We would like to thank Fantasia for allowing us access to review these films.
Horror has always been socially conscious. Whether preying on fears of change or the current state of the world, it is tied to our social mores and our panic that something is not quite right. The environmental impacts of hydro-fracking to the surface in Unearth (2020), directed by John C. Lyons and Dorota Swiess.
The story begins with two families living beside each other. The Dolan family is headed by matriarch Kathryn (genre icon Adrienne Barbeau), Son Tom (P.J. Marshall), Tom’s wife Aubrey (Monica Wyche), and their daughter Christina (Allison McAtee). The Lomack family unit is made of father George (Marc Blucas) and two daughters Heather (Rachel McKeon) and Kim (Brooke Sorenson) who also had a baby, Reese (Sorin Hobson). We follow the various tribulations of both families trying to make ends meet, until the world’s most menacing sounding Oil and Gas company employee offers to acquire George’s land. This creates tension with the Dolans who do not want the land adjacent to their property bought up, and slowly they begin to tear their relationships apart as fracking from the gas company releases something long waiting under the shale crust.
The film is more of a drama which uses horror to accentuate its position on fracking. The monster is the destruction of farm family businesses and the pollution of water resulting from fracking fluid.1 It may have been unnecessary to have any creature effects per se as the family going homicidal was a more interesting dynamic then the usual worm like infection -- see Viral (2016) for something eerily similar. With that said the makeup really upped the horror factor in a couple scenes and was great for the presumably lower budget. The film suffers from the use of ominous music when nothing related to the horror is happening. The film’s greatest weakness is pacing -- to facilitate the character drama, the majority of the horror elements are shoved into the last 20 or so minutes. There is such an oppressive sense of dread leading up to this finale that when the film embraces its horror I was thinking “finally” instead of fearing for our cast of characters.
I enjoyed the southern American gothic feel of the Unearth’s first half and the focus on the demise of middle America. Mark Blucas does a serviceable job portraying a down on his luck father who keeps making things worse. Adrienne Barbeau should be arrested as she stole every one of her scenes. Our lead, Allison McAtee, is not given a ton to work with except minor development with her love of photography -- a missed opportunity for something creepy to appear in her pictures. At one point the film passes the Bechdel test, but quickly turns into a love triangle that becomes a cheap way to add tension.
Ultimately, Unearth provides a drama with a shaky horror element and a message about a potential real life horror. The premise of the film is an inventive way to spin a done to death trope. If you need a decent film to throw on during your panic attack about the state of the world, then this one is on tap.
Screened as part of the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival.