Horror movies often demand that viewers to extend a generous amount of leeway when it comes to logic. Does it make sense that the woman runs up the stairs instead of out the front door when there’s a killer in the house? It does not. Is it probable that the main character’s cell phone would die the second they’re about to call for help? Nope. Should the therapist see potentially dangerous patients in the home where his children sleep? Probably not. We all know this. It’s saying something that an entire aughts-era movie series proved moderately successful simply by parodying all these tropes. With each sub-genre of horror, the particulars of such logical fallacies become more and more granular. When it comes to the well-established clichés of folk horror, they are on full display in writer-director Barnaby Clay’s The Seeding.
At the beginning of the film, Wyndham Stone (Scott Haze, frequent collaborator of James Franco the Director) hikes into the desert to capture photos of a total solar eclipse. Of course, as the narrative necessitates, Wyndham is poorly dressed and ill-prepared for a day in the elements, so when he attempts to help a young boy who seems to have lost his family he soon after finds himself lost and low on water. As the boy leads him deeper into the arid landscape, night falls and Wyndham finds himself at the edge of a canyon in the depths of which Alina (Kate Lyn Sheil) lives in a house. The only way into the canyon? A rickety ladder, which Wyndham descends with almost no hesitation. But as is to be expected, it was all a trap! Now, Wyndham is stuck in this pit with Alina, being constantly taunted by a group of feral boys led by Corvus (Alex Montaldo) and Arvo (Michael Monsour).
If the bird references weren’t enough to clue viewers into the film’s intended wavelength, Clay then proceeds to dip even further into folk horror trope-territory by dividing the film into chapters named after lunar cycles. Gender dynamics quickly become the film’s overarching theme, as Alina affects the mold of “traditional housewife” for Wyndham while he desperately tries to find a way out. As time goes on, Wyndham and Alina grow closer despite tension; she seems to have almost accepted the inevitability of their situation. The boys continue to taunt the duo from atop the canyon’s walls — these scenes are the only real “horror” in the film as audiences are conditioned to expect it, with flashes of boys costumed and masked clearly reflecting Wyndham’s descent into madness as his entrapment continues — and time passes, with no further indication of the youths’ motivations. Things eventually come to a head — after it’s made clear a considerable amount of time has passed — but The Seeding‘s conclusion doesn’t offer anything to expand and enrich the film’s vision, instead simply doubling down on its cocktail of easily spotted tropes and bland thematizing.
Clay’s screenplay is largely to blame for the film’s failures, as he seems far more interested in the film’s self-serious messaging than establishing opportunity to deliver the genre goods. The Seeding is clearly attempting the particular slow-burn psycho-horror style of something like Midsommar, but nothing about Clay’s film creates the necessary tension to pull that off. The film’s visual design does offer modest success, mostly in its presentation of the setting’s imposing landscape, but this table-setting can only carry the film so far, and specifically that’s only about to the 20-minute mark of this 90-minute film. Haze and Sheil, both actors of idiosyncratic screen presence and theoretically ideal performers to build a film like this around, do their best with establishing an eerie tone that might guide the film through its lulls. But they’re given so little to chew on it mostly amounts to rendering her as a dreamy, ethereal, and increasingly fatalistic woman and him yelling at children like he’s a grumpy grandpa and the canyon ridge is his lawn. Ultimately, The Seeding‘s inability to develop impetus beyond its shallow themes and bluntly paganistic iconography results in a movie as empty as the desert Wyndham loses himself in.
DIRECTOR: Barnaby Clay; CAST: Scott Haze, Kate Lyn Sheil, Alex Montaldo; DISTRIBUTOR: Magnet Releasing; IN THEATERS/STREAMING: January 26; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 34 min.