The Seeding (2023) Review
The Seeding certainly has one of the most memorable opening shots in recent history, a filthy toddler wanders across the desert gnawing on what looks like a teething biscuit. Until the camera pulls in, and we see that it’s a human finger.
Photographer Wyndham Stone (Scott Haze, Future World, Minari) has hiked into the desert to get shots of an eclipse. Hiking back out, he sees a somewhat older boy who is apparently lost, however after trying to help him, Stone finds himself lost and alone. He doesn’t find the way back to his car, but he does find a crater with a house in it, and a ladder leading down to it.
Not recognizing an obvious trap when he sees it, he climbs down and finds the house has an occupant, a woman named Alina (Kate Lyn Sheil, She Dies Tomorrow, House of Cards) who offers him so dubious looking food and a place to stay for the night. In the morning, when he goes to leave, the bottom half of the ladder is gone.
Writer/director Barnaby Clay makes his feature debut after a series of music videos and documentaries, and he’s come up with a film that’s strange on multiple levels, starting with the premise that sounds like the start of an old text adventure game from the dawn of computing.
But Stone is in no danger of being eaten by a grue, his problem is a pack of feral boys, including the one responsible for his being in this situation. They prevent him from escaping, but occasionally throw food and other supplies down to them. Are they keeping her there as well? If they are, she seems oddly unconcerned by the situation. The walls of the crater have ancient murals depicting snake women, rituals and human sacrifices. Is she some sort of witch or cult leader, and they’re her disciples? It would explain her lack of worry about the situation and lack of desire to escape it.
As time passes, denoted by chapter markings named for the phases of the moon, neither an explanation nor a chance for escape present themselves. And that leaves The Seeding feeling less like a horror film and more like a bizarre relationship film as something, whether the result of actual affection or simply a lack of options, between the two.
Despite the lack of clues from the script, it isn’t that hard to see where the plot is heading. The Seeding’s own title is a massive spoiler. The fact that the film’s protagonist can’t figure that, or anything else, out becomes somewhat frustrating as the plot wears on. His blindness to what is going on seems to be the point, though, the audience being forced to watch as a seemingly inescapable fate bears down on Stone. Whatever her part in this, Alina seems to have accepted and made peace with it, should he do the same?
Credit strong performances from Haze and Sheil for helping to hold The Seeding together during some of its rockier stretches. It would have been easy for a film like this to slip into pretension and become an art house take on The Hills Have Eyes or a gender switched version of The Bad Batch. Unfortunately, the feral boys aren’t given the same attention to their characters, and even the featured members of the pack are little more than generic menaces, depriving the film of a strong antagonist.
Despite the film’s horror tag, don’t expect much in the way of scares from The Seeding, Clay is more interested in creating a sense of unease and discomfort rather than fear and terror And for the most part he succeeds even if the results are closer to dark drama than horror. While it suffers from the lack of a strong antagonist, and a likeable protagonist for that matter, much of The Seeding does work, and it’s worth a watch if you’re into films that think out of the box.
Magnolia Pictures will release The Seeding in theatres and to VOD and Digital Platforms through its genre division Magnet Releasing on January 26th.