Unearth review – fracking finds something nasty under the cornfield

一世f HP Lovecraft had joined Extinction Rebellion, this is the kind of idea he might have come up with: a cautionary horror story about fracking, which disguises itself as a 70s ensemble drama before erupting into something altogether ickier. While Terrence Malick loved filming American cornfields at the hallowed “magic hour”, this awkward hybrid prefers loitering at what you might call “morbid hour”, with Korean cinematographer Eun-ah Lee bathing everything in sallow, deathly light. The blight beneath everyone’s feet is creeping into their hearts.

Set in rural Pennsylvania, Unearth is a tale of two houses: the Lomacks and the Dolans. Beer-chugging divorcee dad George Lomack (Marc Blucas) is struggling to provide for his two daughters with a failing auto-mechanic business; dollar signs light up in his eyes when a gas-extraction outfit called Patriot Exploration comes calling with an offer for his land. This is much to the horror of Kathryn Dolan (Adrienne Barbeau, on fearsome form), matriarch of the neighbouring clan, who is fighting to keep her land productive, and whose photographer daughter Christina (Allison McAtee) likes blowing off some steam amid the corncobs with pent-up George.

The film takes considerable care delving into these dynastic undercurrents, complete with a doomy biblical undertow. “If you make a tree good, its fruit will be good. You make a tree bad, its fruit’s gonna be bad,” augurs Kathryn. So makes it all the more jarring when Unearth explodes with little warning into full-on suppurating-wound, tendril-spouting eco horror for the final 20 分钟. No real explanation is apparently deemed necessary of the infection vector at hand: evil fracking.

Directors John C Lyons and Dorota Swies go at the transition with gusto, including a highly disturbing episode featuring a toddler, and a nauseating demise for Barbeau worthy of her former husband, John Carpenter. But completely dropping the diligent previous character work, it becomes a directionless mess, flapping rampages through arable fields. Like the drilling operation, this was a script in sore need of a clean-up operation.

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