Adrienne Barbeau

Fantasia Review: Unearth

Dealing with internal and external troubles, two families are at odds over what to do with their farmland. One family decides to lease their land for fracking. When the fracking unleashes something ancient, it leads to dire consequences for the generations living on the land.

Fantasia International Film Festival continues to bring a wide range of unique films with Unearth. The film is co-directed by John C. Lyons (Schism, There Are No Goodbyes) and Dorota Swies (Schism, There Are No Goodbyes). Lyons also co-wrote the film with Kelsey Goldberg, making her feature-film debut. This film is the definition of a slow burn. The filmmakers take their time gradually building the tension. This tension comes in the form of strained familial relationships, financial struggles, and disagreements between the two main families. One of these families takes pride in working their farm. The other family is having difficulty making ends meet, which is what leads to them leasing their land for fracking. This only makes the issues between the two families even more fractious. It isn’t really until the final act of the film that they show what was buried deep underground and how it wreaks havoc on the unsuspecting families. The climax of the film really emphasizes the strain between the characters while also introducing some truly shocking moments of gore.

It’s clear Unearth is meant to be a slow burn and for the focus to be on the relationships between the individual characters. The more horrific elements are more of a side note to make the end of the film more shocking. While I found this to be enjoyable because it allowed for thorough character development so I cared more about each person’s fate, it will also likely deter many viewers. Many audiences are sure to find the film to be too slow and the shocking climax won’t be enough to make up for that. The final moments of the film also seem out of place with what we learned about what was unleashed only moments before. It leaves a lot of unanswered questions, and not the good kind.

Unearth has a great ensemble cast, including relative newcomers and some horror favorites. Horror fan-favorite Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Escape From New York) plays Kathryn. Kathryn is the matriarch of her farm and very set in her ways. Barbeau knows how to play a strong, powerful woman and she does not disappoint in this role. Another face horror fans will likely recognize is Marcus Blucas (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Knight and Day), who plays George. Much like Kathryn, George is the head of his family on the neighboring farm, but he differs in how he struggles with his leadership role and continually makes bad decisions. Blucas does a great job of bringing this character to life in a way that makes him flawed yet sympathetic. These two opposing characters stand out in a memorable way. Honorable mention goes to Allison McAtee (Bloomington, Calfornication) and Rachel McKeon (Jessica Jones, Gone).

While the practical effects are reserved for the climax of Unearth, they definitely pack quite a punch. I won’t go into too much detail regarding these effects because I don’t want to spoil anything. What I can tell you is that the filmmakers managed to fit quite a bit of gore in a short amount of time. Not only are these effects incredibly well done, they are quite shocking and at times truly disturbing. Some of the images from the climax of the film are guaranteed to stick with the audience long after the film ends.

Unearth is a suspenseful character study that takes its time leading up to a disturbing climax. The filmmakers clearly want to make sure the audience is invested in the characters, but it might take a bit too long to get into the horror awaiting underground. While the slow burn works fine for me, it’s sure to alienate some viewers. Luckily, the film boasts great performances and the effects during the climax hold no punches. There’s no denying that moments of this film definitely make it a memorable viewing experience.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

Creepshow: Season 1 Episode 1

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In 1982, the iconic horror anthology, Creepshow, was released. The anthology was written by Stephen King and directed by George A. Romero, who are both horror icons. The film spawned a sequel in 1987. Now, Creepshow is back in an exciting new way.

The horror streaming service, Shudder, is bringing back everyone’s favorite creep with his chest of comics and all new stories. Creepshow is getting a new life in the form of a weekly series. Every Thursday night Shudder subscribers can tune in to watch the latest episode live and the episode will also become available ondemand. Each episode will tell two different stories and each week fans will get to see work from some of their favorite actors, writers, and directors while also being introduced to some exciting new talent. The lovely folks over at Shudder were kind enough to give me an early look at the first episode. In this episode viewers will see two thrilling tales, “Gray Matter” and “The House of the Head.”

“Gray Matter,” based on a short story by legendary author Stephen King and adapted for the screen by Byron Willinger (The Commuter) and Philip de Blasi (The Commuter), starts off the episode with a bang. Directed by Greg Nicotero (The Walking Dead), the segment tells the tale of a father and son. After losing his wife, the father turns to alcohol to ease his pain with horrifying consequences. The story takes place on one dark and stormy night as most of the town has either left to avoid the storm or boarded everything up. This generates a claustrophobic feeling of being trapped as things gradually go from bad to worse.

This short was a great way to kick off the first episode. It is a frightening story that all culminates in fantastic practical effects that you have to see to believe. “Gray Matter” also includes a couple of fan favorite horror actors including Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Escape From New York) and Tobin Bell (Saw, Belzebuth). This segment also stars relative newcomer, Christopher Nathan (Barely Lethal, The Spectacular Now) as Timmy. Nathan delivers a compelling performance as he struggles between doing the right thing and his love for his father.

The second segment, “The House of the Head,” takes creepy dolls to a whole new level. This story follows young Evie as she plays with her doll family in their beautiful dollhouse. When a mysterious toy head appears in the house the lives of the doll family are threatened. “The House of the Head” is written by Josh Malerman, who also wrote the Bird Box novel, and directed by John Harrison (Tales From the Darkside: The Movie, Book of Blood).

This story is particularly frightening. The viewer sees the lives of the dolls through the eyes of young Evie. This is a highly effective storytelling tool because there is really no major action, we don’t ever even see the dolls move. It is Evie’s love of her dolls and childish point of view that allows the sense of danger to the dolls to come through the screen. Evie is played by the very talented Cailey Flemming (The Walking Dead, Peppermint). Flemming really makes the plot work. If it wasn’t for her love of the dolls and her ability to treat them as if they were real people, then the viewer wouldn’t care about the dolls and feel the peril they are in.

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Shudder and the entire team behind the new Creepshow series got the show off to a strong start with “Grey Matter” and “The House of the Head.” Both stories boast strong performances, beloved horror actors, favorite horror writers and directors, stunning practical effects, and chilling tales that are sure to give you goose bumps. Even more appealing is how both segments do what I always want to see from short films: they tell a complete story, but leave enough mystery to make you want more. It makes me excited to see what the future episodes will hold. I also love that Shudder is only releasing one episode a week, allowing for the collective live viewing experience that has been lost with many streaming services. With the success of the weekly episodes of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs, I can only imagine how many Shudder subscribers will watch live and tweet along with the show.

The first episode of Creepshow will air on Thursday, September 26th at 9pm EST/6pm PST. If you aren’t a Shudder subscriber yet, be sure to sign up so you can be part of this fantastic weekly horror event.