Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 24, 2024 3:46 pm 
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Troubling new genre horror film set in a desert canyon

Horror movies - if that is what The Seeding is (and the very grammar of the title tells us so) - are not so much interested in telling a story, sometimes, as creating an atmosphere. The "horror" desert is set in the opening sequence where a filthy baby waddles across the scene with a human finger, dripping blood, in its mouth. Pretty bloody awful. The menacing score by Tristan Bechet’ (linked by someone with Planet of the Apes), the tall, crooked cactuses, the looming mesas, the desert itself, are all designed to create a sense of menace. They tell us that the hiking Los Angeles dude (Wyndham Alan Stone, we later learn his name is; the actor is Scott Haze), who rests lying on his back in the open and consults his Seiko watch, is in danger. It's seventeen minutes to four. A dangerous time! No - no danger yet. It's a propitious time, because he has a camera and a tripod with him, and he's there to photograph an eclipse of the sun.

He does. Glimpsing its awesome beauty from here reminds us of primordial forces. But after all there is a story, and it's not of those, but of entrapment - through a rather mean-looking boy whose story of being lost the man ought to have seen through when he walks so surely in the wrong direction, away from services. Wynham Alan Stone, you're very far out of your element. You've heard of street smarts? Mr. Stone lacks desert smarts. In the wilderness, you are alone. You can't trust anyone.

He soon learns that. As night falls - and darkness is not his friend - he wanders into what turns out to be a trap, goes down a rope ladder off the edge of a small cliff. Down there, he finds a woman called Alina (Kate Lyn Sheil) living in a shack. There's well water, no phone. Next day, the bottom of the ladder's gone. Stone is a husky man, but his rock climbing skills are not sufficient, because basically, this is Free Solo, and he's not Alex Honnold. Eventually he falls and hurts his leg. (His cries of pain are awful to listen to.) The woman wants him to stay, says she will "take care of him." He wants to go back to his life - "people depend on me" - and to his car, which he pictures being towed by now.

Half an hour in, the sadistic feral boys appear, at the rim of the canyon, offering to pull Stone out with a rope. It's an invitation to torture, and it turns out the woman in the cabin is, like Stone now, their prisoner and plaything. But she accepts it. He very much does not.

All this is expected if you know what Terry Mesnard of Gayly Dreadful]knows: that this film is, in part anyway, an homage to Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes or Alexander Aja's 2007 remake. Mesnard points out the way the "desert porn" shots are spiced up with images of ants crawling around a chicken bone and the huddled corpse of a dead fox - and, of course, birds circling the sky; how Clay's background in music videos shows in the striking beauty of the images. Mesnard commends the production design of David S. Bridson and notes a key detail: the woman marking the time she's been in this cavern trap with smears of her menstrual blood on the wall.

The final segment reveals an underlying wish to savage gender roles and procreation - a central theme first hinted by the menstrual blood wall calendar. AS Stone's entrapment with the woman persists, there are increasingly dark and terrifying scenes. One might think Scott Haze violently overacts: but this is genre, after all, and Clay delights and innovates, and this is a vision of torment and of the desert as a place that spawns evil and a descent from human to beast.

Chad Collins on Dread Central chides Clay's film for being "at times frustratingly opaque and tonally inconsistent," but acknowledges it to have been "one of Tribeca Festival's most assured genre debuts this year," modestly describing it as navigating "lunar cycles of savagery and existential isolation, interrogating the frenzied nature of the modern world and the roots of pernicious masculinity." All that, and it creeps you out too. What more could you ask? Perhaps the bulk of The Seeding will seem just a bad dream, albeit a troubling one for a man. At least you will hope so.

The Seeding, 100 mins., debuted at Tribeca Jun. 11, 2023, also showing in festivals in Mumbia, in Germany and Austria and at Fantasia, Montreal. It was picked up for distribution by Magnolia and will be released in AMC theaters and on VOD nationwide Jan. 26, 2024.

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