There are few films I have watched in recent memory that are such a beguiling mix of frustration and wonder as Barnaby Clay’s modern folk-horror story The Seeding. A sun-bleached nightmare soaked in the blood of the ancient and of the unknown, packed with arresting visuals, nauseating ideas and an emptiness so aching that not even the vast of the desert night sky can fill.
The film follows Wyndham Stone (Scott Haze), a photographer who has gone off the beaten track in a vast and nameless desert in order to get the perfect picture of a rare lunar eclipse. While travelling, Stone comes across a seemingly lost child in the shade of a wizened tree in the dust, alone and looking for his parents.
Trying to help, Stone soon loses track of both the boy and his own trail and stumbles across a young woman (Kate Lyn Sheil) living alone in a deep, barren desert canyon. Scaling down a flimsy rope ladder to ask for directions, Stone finds himself trapped by a pack of sadistic boys who withdraw his only means of escape.
The Seeding is a lot to take in.
Anchored by two strong performances from Scott Haze and Kate Lyn Sheil, the plot that unfolds across the film’s runtime is as sparse and barren as the desert Stone finds himself trapped in. As an exercise in visual storytelling and tension building, director Barnaby Clay succeeds in crafting a film that makes the viewer feel as trapped and hopeless as our protagonist himself.
Scott Haze slowly warms into the role of Wyndham Stone as the film progresses. Initially a quiet, determined individual, his transformation across the film to the wild-eyed, broken man he becomes is wonderfully realised and full of physicality. The film relies on the strength of his performance to pull it along when the plot grinds to a standstill, but Haze is more than capable of carrying the load.
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Similarly, Kate Lyn Sheil’s Alina is a fascinatingly reserved character; quiet and full of mystery, her reluctance to share the nature of her own existence with Stone is one of the film’s most frustrating (though understandable) decisions. Sheil is fantastic here, skirting the line between sinister and innocent with a deft touch and a knowing glare. Inscrutable, sympathetic and always captivating, Sheil’s performance across the film is fantastic.
The gang of young men who circle the canyon to torment, assault and foil any of Stone’s attempts to free himself from the canyon are reminiscent of the kind of characters you would expect to see on the horizon of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, or even at Grandpa’s dinner table in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It further adds to the feeling that Clay is playing a larger game here, with the film’s dry bones resting in the history of American horror through the decades and stirring up something ancient, otherworldly and unknowable.
The dialogue is at times a little rote and melodramatic, but it’s hard not to think that this is by design. There is a grand artifice about proceedings; as the drama unfolding between Stone and Alina seems to be some grand dance between two ancient architypes who are doomed to play out their hopeless parts until the end of time.
Cinematographer Robert Leitzell has a fantastic eye and really does a tremendous job in making the Utah desert look as alien as the dried-up canyons of Mars. The ravine where Stone finds himself trapped is shot as though it were a creature itself; high drone shots from above shape the ravine as gaping maw in the desert, as though the Earth itself has grown a mouth to swallow him whole.
It has to be said that the pacing of the film is slower than the turn of the Harvest Moon. A deliberate and measured pace that crawls along rather than glides, it can at times prove to be a big ask of the film’s audience. Occasional moments of violence pocket the film, but for long stretches we are left with only Clay’s ideas and Leitzell’s admittedly stunning visuals to engage with.
The Seeding also wallows in a bone-dry, pitch-black cruelty that is darker than the eclipse that kicks the film’s horrific events into gear. The film seems to take a calculated glee in the misery heaped upon Stone, and ends in an act of casual brutality that, while has been building for the duration of the film, seems no less shocking upon its arrival.
Barnaby Clay plays with the language of the American folktale and spins a yarn of infinitely bleak cycles of birth and death. Where forces far beyond our understanding manoeuvre their pawns into places of predestination to dance to songs written long before time began. While its abstract nature and glacial pacing will put off some, there is a dark-hearted gem just below the surface of The Seeding just waiting to be uncovered.
The Seeding will be available on Digital Download in the UK & Ireland from 12th February from Lightbulb Films.
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