Admittedly, there was a moment about halfway through Unearth, the “fracking horror movie” from directors John C. Lyons and Dorota Swies, when it felt like I was watching some more in line with an ecological drama than anything genre-related. But then as things began to amp up in the last 20 minutes or so, Unearth takes some severely sharp and twisted left turns and the narrative morphs into something more horrific, making the film something I’d ultimately define more as “genre adjacent” than a movie that’s pure horror.
And while I do wish Unearth had leaned into those horror-infused tendencies sooner, the film is definitely well-acted, gorgeously shot and perfectly captures the rising tensions surrounding two families who are faced with difficult decisions as an economic downturn threatens to destroy everything they’ve worked so hard for. Plus, anything with Adrienne Barbeau will always garner my attention, and she’s great here.
In Unearth, we’re introduced to two families: there’s single dad George Lomack (Marc Blucas, who genre fans know from his days playing Riley on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series), and his daughters Heather (Rachel McKeon) and Kim (Brooke Sorenson), who is doing her best to raise her baby while still finishing up school, and then there is the Dolan clan, led by the strong-willed matriarch Kathryn (the aforementioned Barbeau). Both families are living out on some farmland in a quiet community, with the Dolan’s doing their best to try and stay afloat selling bundles of corn and the Lomack’s are reliant on George’s income as a small-time mechanic.
With things being as dire as they are, George decides to take up a seemingly lucrative deal from an oil company who wants to lease his property to start fracking, but as we all know, most deals involving big companies end up being too good to be true, and George has no idea of the implications his decision will have on those he loves and others who also live in the area.
For Unearth, filmmakers Lyons and Swies do a great job of building an immediate sense of connection between the two families at the center of their story, and also setting the stage for impending disaster, as even the “sunnier” days in the film always have this feeling that a storm is just lurking right around the corner. Unearth’s muted palette works in the film’s favor greatly, as it conveys the world weariness that these characters are feeling, and the lack of hope for their respective predicaments as well. The cinematography from Eun-ah Lee is gorgeously lush at times, capturing the natural beauty of the farmland environments, and as things begin to fall apart for the characters in Unearth, the usage of tight close-ups works exceedingly well to draw viewers into the panic and terror they are feeling during the film’s mind-bending finale filled with all sorts of gooey body horror moments.
Again, I’m not sure that I would necessarily categorize Unearth as a true horror movie, but there is definitely enough going on towards the end to qualify it as something that falls under the “genre” label. I do think Unearth works as well as it does because of its performances (I was going to highlight a few names here, but honestly, there’s not a bad apple in the bunch – everyone is great), and I think for those who are a bit more flexible with their definitions of horror should enjoy what Swies and Lyons have created with Unearth.
Movie Score: 3/5
Visit our online hub to catch up on our previous coverage of Fantasia 2020.