Fantasia 2020: 'Unearth' is a Chilling Eco-Horror Film About Farmers
by Zofia Wijaszka
September 25, 2020
Screened as a selection of the virtual 2020 Fantasia Film Festival. When nature is one of the key elements of a film, it usually touches on humanity's relentless power of destruction. This theme is a major part of the newest eco-horror feature, Unearth, co-directed by John C. Lyons (Schism, There Are No Goodbyes) and Dorota Swies (Schism), from a script written by Lyons and Kelsey Goldberg. This self-described "fracking horror story" captivates audiences with its intense storytelling and, most importantly, the lessons hidden within. Next to phenomenal directing, its cast, especially Allison McAtee, deliver gratifying performances.
Two farm families, the Dolans and the Lomacks, have been neighbors and close friends for quite some time. Both family's daughters grew up together, and now a new member beginning the next generation arrives in the Lomack household. When times start to get tough and every penny counts, the two farming families face a difficult choice. They either firmly stand their ground on the ground that they've passed on from parent to child, or lease their land to an oil & gas company that wants to drill. Kathryn (Adrienne Barbeau), the Dolan matriarch, refuses to settle with them. Meanwhile, George Lomack (Marc Blucas), a lonely father of Kim (Brooke Sorenson) and Heather (Rachel McKeon), and now a grandfather to Reese, barely makes ends meet. To provide for them, George makes the most impossible decision and leases his farmland to the company. The decision worsens the ties between the two families. Everything intensifies even further when the company starts drilling, and something evil and outright terrifying comes out of the murky grounds.
Unearth takes its sweet time. Instead of rushing and getting straight into the action, Swies & Lyons let us get familiar with the Dolans & Lomacks. Viewers are introduced to the parents, grandparents, as well as the children of both families. One of them, Christina Dolan (Allison McAtee), is brought to the forefront as the oldest of the kids. McAtee's character remarkably exemplifies the issue that many young people struggle with. Instead of going into the family farm business, she aspires to become a photographer. That, however, doesn't please Kathryn – the matriarch tries to hold her back at all costs. McAtee is superb as Christina and delivers a satisfying, thrilling performance. She’s a "final girl" of Unearth, to some degree. But instead of a serial killer chasing after her, Christina fights against an unforgiving, severely maltreated nature.
Although the film has a long introduction, it gets right to the point right after that. Both families must fight for survival from the unknown force. The eco topic is right front and center - that's a good thing, especially in today's disastrous new normal. We once again must confront our own approach towards the environment we inhabit. Are we kind to nature? Do we respect it? Unearth lets us reflect on those questions and many more during & after the film. Swies & Lyons also highlight the careless greed of people who take advantage of poorer families, especially farmers, who work hard enough to provide for their families but only just that. We often tend to forget that while everyone conveniently buys their produce from markets, it's the hard-working farmers who supply them. In the aftermath, the creators remind us that we're merely visitors on this planet. When we're long gone, nature will last forever; hence we should respect it and cherish it.
Next to the more obvious ecological topic, Unearth also explores the intricacies of bonds between parents and their children. By showing the relationships between the Dolans and the Lomacks and their children, the filmmakers cautiously explore different paths of parenting and choices. The decisions they make have a definite impact on these adolescents and affect their future life. Sometimes, making a decision, they want to provide and protect us at all costs. In Unearth's case, the audience has a chance to see two different families where the elders made different choices. However, the bloody outcome is still the same. One decision affects another and eventually it all leads to misfortune. The film also proves that money isn't everything and won't make you happy, especially if you put your loved ones in harm's way.
Swies & Lyons' Unearth doesn't dig up anything new. Environmental horrors have been made before. But there is still something in them that I utterly love. It's the way the film acts as a reminder for audiences that nature is the most powerful force, and nothing can stop it, even the most advanced technology in the world. Sometimes, we need to leave it be and take a moment to appreciate it. Unearth helps with that appreciation. Next to powerful storytelling that relates directly to our modern world of damaging technology and bloody outcomes, there's well-crafted characters that we want to believe in. If you want to see a horror story that talks about the power of nature and showcases human relationships, this film delivers exactly that.
Zofia's Fantasia 2020 Rating: 4 out of 5
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