Eco-horror is a primordial genre that reaches back via Long Weekend to the H-bomb anxieties of the 50’s; directors John C Lyons and Dorota Swies tap into our fears about farming and fracking to bring us Unearth, a novel and unusually serious-minded horror film that chimes well with the sense of unease that 2021 currently has to offer in spades. While the long, slow burn may frustrate those hoping for a straightforward gross-out monster movie, Unearth takes enough care to delineate the economic and psychological issues that farming communities face to make it worth recommending to those who get the concept.
80’s scream queen Adrienne Barbeau is a big draw here as Kathryn Dolan, an experienced former who has a healthy distrust of the companies who seek to use her land for farming; she’s happy to send them packing. But the community around her is not so strong; families are struggling to put food on the table, and the temptation of a quick cash injection is too much for some. But as well as getting resoundingly rooked by the small print in the contract, the Dolan family find that there’s a hefty dose of body-horror coming their way as the wayward drilling unleashes something worse than just unwanted bills.
Stephen King’s essential book Danse Macabre goes into detail about how 1979’s The Amityville Horror is as effective detailing financial as supernatural shocks, and that same notion is useful here; Unearth deals with the horrors of being poor, with kids to feed, bills to pay, but the pervasive reek of desperation serving to push friends, family and customers away. It’s only round-about the hour mark that we start to understand the physical threat here as the farming families begin to find their bodies changing and a state of physical decay setting in.
Unearth won’t sell many tourist trips to Northwestern Pennsylvania, which offers a bleak backdrop to the horror-show here. But although it’s slow and quite unsettling by design, Unearth is a horror film that never gets silly, and that’s a rare thing in a genre that’s often characterised by excess. Not a fun film, but a timely one, Unearth uncovers a familiar story of greed and decay, and should be on any horror-fan’s must-see list for 2021.
Thanks to Signature Entertainment who are presenting Unearth on DVD and Digital Platforms in the UK from 28th June 2021