The sweeping aerial shots of peaceful farmland and the image of a single fisher on the early morning still waters of a nearby lake may suggest a certain tranquility of the countryside in Unearth, but we know that things aren’t going to stay that way for long, not with a foreboding soundtrack and an evocative film title like that.
Eco–horror and body horror collide in this film from John C. Lyons and Dorota Swies, with untold horrors waiting to be unleashed just below the surface of dusty corn fields. Above ground, two farming families struggle to make ends meet; the Dolans dealing with the death of their patriarch and the Lomacks facing a loss in their business. Family members are drawn back to their homesteads to offer support and comfort, and to strategize a way into the future that won’t leave them destitute or debt-ridden.
The fate of the Dolans’ farm lies in the hands of its matriarch, Kathryn (played by Adrienne Barbeau). Kathryn is desperate to keep the family legacy alive by passing it down to her resistant and resentful granddaughter, Christina (Allison McAtee), a talented photographer whose work is infused with a love of the country life.
Meanwhile, neighbouring mechanic and single father, George Lomack (Marc Blucas), struggles with the loss of customers to a large auto repair chain, and with providing for a full household—two daughters and a newborn grandchild.
Between clandestine encounters and a big fuel company breathing down their necks for their land, the two families become intertwined and tensions quickly rise with the increasing noise of the distant fracking in the back forty. It dredges up both family hostilities and, unbeknownst to them, a mysterious substance disturbed by the drilling, which seeps into their water supply and leaves us to witness some truly grotesque and gruesome displays that you won’t soon forget.
Strong performances all around from the cast and plenty of time dedicated to characterization allows us to emotionally invest in the family members, feeling the pain of their suffering and their exploitation at the hands of large corporations. With our own environmental crises upon us, Unearth hints at the devastating consequences of land destruction and harvesting at the cost of environmental and human lives. The insidious threat beneath them transforms familiar terrain into a terrifying new reality.
Score: 9 glasses of tainted water out of 10.
This film was reviewed as part of our coverage of Fantasia International Film Festival 2020.