Unearth is a horror movie about fracking but it’s actually much drier than that description would suggest. The film, co-directed by John C. Lyons and Dorota Swies from a script credited to Lyons and Kelsey Goldberg, is far more interested in the minor, dull machinations of a couple neighboring farm families than it is in the horrors that are apparently lurking right beneath their feet, just waiting to be unleashed by the drills of an evil gas company. Its intentions are good, but, at the risk of mixing metaphors, there’s not a whole lot of meat on its bones.
Taking place in smalltown Pennsylvania, the packed script throws everything at the wall in the hopes that something, anything will stick. There’s a dark family tragedy that’s only alluded to. There’s a teen pregnancy that goes unremarked upon in spite of the fact the mother in question is filmed boarding and departing the schoolbus several times, childish backpack and all. There’s a suggestion of queerness that goes absolutely nowhere, resulting in the kind of melodramatic outburst more suited to daytime soaps. And there’s even a subplot about self-harm which is something, to be fair, I haven’t seen in a movie in a while but that’s completely mishandled and feels uncomfortably tacked on here.
Much of Unearth’s run-time is taken up with dry farm talk and long, indulgent shots of the farmland itself. There’s a sense it must be building to something fairly exciting but at the same time there’s no way the payoff could possibly be good enough to justify spending so long setting everything up. Crucially, there’s not one likable or believable character in the bunch, though Marc Blucas is, at the very least, less irritating than he was in Buffy. Horror Icon Adrienne Barbeau, meanwhile, receives top billing only to be saddled with a thankless, one-note role that grates as much as she grinds her teeth, evidently uncomfortable with the lacklustre material she’s been given. Nobody else makes a dent, the characters blurring into a mess of dull clichés like wannabe photographer who’s zooming in on ears of corn the whole time or…grumpy man (that’s it).
The act of fracking itself is presented as gross, and rightly so, but it’s not given nearly enough, well, depth for the audience to truly understand why it’s so destructive and wrong. Even the arrival of permits to drill for gas doesn’t cause enough of a stir among the townsfolk with the story skipping one year into the future for no apparent reason immediately after the agreement is made, as though suddenly we’re in a rush to get to the good stuff (which, again, never materializes). For a time, water is presented as a dangerous antagonist, almost in the same way it would be in a sharksploitation movie or something, but this idea is also dispensed with almost as soon as it’s introduced. There’s some surprisingly gross body horror moments, boasting good VFX, but they come so late in the game that your patience will already be wearing too thin to care.
The message that fracking destroys everything is a powerful one, and the filmmakers should be commended for tackling it in this kind of context, but considering how little the idea is expanded upon, it feels like a wasted opportunity. The Beach House just dealt with environmental horror on a gruesome, horrifying level so Unearth feels even more disappointing in its wake. Even the cinematography is muddy and bland, matching the characters, and the setting actually recalls a Milo Ventimiglia vehicle from a few years back called Devil’s Gate that, again, this movie can’t hold a candle to in performances, scares, or just plain interest level.
To put it plainly, it’s a good 45 minutes before something horrific happens which, in a 94-minute horror movie, is blasphemous unless you’re an expert in building tension. At its core, this is an original idea very poorly executed. Hopefully the next fracking-themed genre movie will drill under the surface a bit further.
WICKED RATING: 3/10