04th Sep2020

Fantasia 2020: ‘Unearth’ Review

by Chris Cummings

Stars: Adrienne Barbeau, Marc Blucas, P.J. Marshall, Allison McAtee, Rachel McKeon, Brooke Sorenson, Monica Wyche | Written by Kelsey Goldberg, John C. Lyons | Directed by John C. Lyons, Dorata Swies

When I read the terms “fracking” and “horror” linked together for a movie, I was curious but also unsure of what the hell it would even be. Enter Unearth, a horror flick written by Kelsey Goldberg (Painting Autumn) and John C. Lyons (Schism), who also directs along with Dorata Swies. The story of two Pennsylvania farming families whose relationships with one another become torn by the decision of one of the families to lease their land to a gas and oil conglomerate. The existing ties of these families is frayed with this decision, and as the drilling commences, there’s something underground that unleashes a new type of horror upon these two households.

It’s a film that dips its toes solidly in the world of horror, whilst also having plenty to say besides that. I liked that about Unearth. It’s smart and wants to delve into other avenues aside from the atypical ones. Looking into the cost of fracking on communities and on the planet, as well as the circumstances of families going through hardship, it’s one of those movies that almost doesn’t feel like a horror movie much of the time, until it does. It’s grim stuff, with a desolate landscape and dreary atmosphere, making it something of a hike at times, but not because it’s boring or lacks an interesting premise, but rather because it’s very serious and inhospitable in how it unfolds. The characters, for the most-part, are characters that are difficult to truly feel much for. Sure, we can certainly get to the point of understanding their thought processes, but they’re fairly difficult folk to relate to because we don’t generally get to see much beyond the intense danger they have found themselves in. It’s not exactly a bad thing, though, and perhaps more of a personal desire to see more emotional and vulnerable sides to these characters and delve a bit further into their personalities.

Unearth is a technically beautiful film, it must be said. The cinematography from Eun-ah Lee (A Song Still Inside) is glorious, and Lyons and Swies edited the film brilliantly too. The performances, mostly, are good, with the likes of Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog), P.J. Marshall (Mindhunter) and Marc Blucas (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) offering some fine work. I admittedly feel a little like the horror was somewhat secondary here, but that isn’t always a bad thing, especially when a movie has plenty to say. The horror moments worked for me, and I really liked that mixture of politically-charged observational drama and horror sequences.

There’s certainly a big emphasis placed on environmental factors and Unearth stands firmly against industrialisation, a message that may very well dissuade some from giving this a fair shake, but I enjoyed this, and thought the performances and complexities of the characters we spend our time with as well as the films’ appearance and the thoughtful writing went a long way to creating something dark, depressing and gloomy, yes… but still pretty damn enjoyable. If you’re not expecting a full-blown jaunt into pure horror territory and are cool with something a little different, then I’d recommend giving Unearth a try, because it might tick some boxes for you that aren’t often ticked in the genre.

*** 3/5

Unearth screened as part of this years Fantasia Festival, which took place on Aug 20th – Sept 2nd 2020.


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