Review by Sean Boelman
The midnight sections at festivals are sometimes hit-or-miss, but every once in a while, there comes along a film that is genuinely disturbing and, dare I say, scary. Barney Clay’s The Seeding might not have a lot going on in the story, but it boasts impressive enough imagery and a disquieting enough atmosphere for it to be an effective horror picture.
The movie follows a man who gets trapped in a desert canyon with a woman who lives off-the-grid, held captive by a group of young boys who like to torture him in sadistic ways. Although the premise is simple, Clay manages to pack enough disturbing imagery and tension into the 94-minute runtime to keep viewers engaged.
The pacing of this film is an extremely slow burn, but it’s also thoroughly unsettling. The first two-thirds feel like a mix of a “man versus wild” movie and a thriller like Deliverance, as the character struggles to survive against both natural threats and the torturous ways of the boys. However, the final act turns into something even darker, and it works quite well.
Part of what makes the movie’s atmosphere so effective is Clay’s concise and tense direction. The film is set almost entirely in and around a single valley, and the cinematography does an excellent job of making us feel trapped alongside the characters. Although it’s clear the movie was made on a small budget, Clay makes the absolute most out of what he has.
On a thematic level, the film is very simplistic. The movie’s commentary on the “nature vs. nurture” debate is straightforward, but the film consistently manages to shock and disturb. In the third act, the movie does become a bit heavy-handed — particularly when it comes to its symbolism — but it’s still harrowing.
The character development is also a bit threadbare, but Clay clearly kept the characters ambiguous for much of the runtime so that the final act twist could work. Unfortunately, the boys in particular are frustrating, as they feel stereotypical and exaggerated, rather than legitimately intimidating.
Nevertheless, the performances in the movie are mostly solid. Scott Haze’s performance is extraordinary, showing a massive amount of desperation. However, it is Kate Lyn Sheil who steals the show. She’s relatively quiet in the first act of the film, but as her purpose in the story becomes clearer over the course of the runtime, her presence grows more dominant.
The Seeding is an unsettling movie in every sense of the word, and while its threadbare plotting may put some viewers off, there’s no denying that the film is beyond eerie enough to crawl under most viewers’ skin. Indeed, Barney Clay’s movie thrives in its simplicity — something that can not often be said about horror movies these days.
The Seeding screens at the 2023 Tribeca Festival, which runs June 7-18 in NYC and June 19 through July 2 online.