The Seeding

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Seeding
"It’s the sort of story rarely told in cinema today, and one which seems destined to attract a cult following."

From the very start of Barney Clay’s epic and yet microcosmic fable, there is a sense of human smallness in a vast and uncaring universe. Tristan Bechet’s wildly echoing score recalls the opening scenes of Planet Of The Apes, and we are similarly adrift in a desert landscape (in this case Utah), amongst massive, ancient rocks, beneath an enormous sky. This is not an altogether alien-looking place, however. There are familiar plants, sparse though they may be, and the occasional vulture wheeling overhead. The man (Scott Haze) who we are following is dressed in ordinary clothes and is carrying a light backpack and a camera. He has come out here to photograph an eclipse.

What would lead a man like this off the steady track of life? He is no wilderness explorer looking to get himself lost. He hasn’t even brought a warm jacket. But he’s a nice guy, and when he meets a boy who appears to be lost, he wants, as most of us would, to help. “Where are your parents?” he asks, but the boy is vague, apparently confused, and leads him off along the rocks so that before he knows it, he’s hopelessly lost. Then the boy disappears. In the cold, rainy night which follows, the man hears singing, follows the sound in hope of shelter, climbs down a rope ladder into a crater, and the trap is set.

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The rest of the film takes place in and around the crater, from which, in the absence of the ladder, the man is unable to escape. Before long, the boy reappears at the top, together with older youths dressed like refugees from a Seventies Ozploitation film, yet scarily believable. They jeer at the man, uninterested in his demands. They offer to play games, but it seems unlikely that he can win. Occasionally, they send down parcels of domestic equipment and food.

In the crater, in a little wooden house, lives a woman (Kate Lyn Sheil), the source of the singing. She offers the man food, warmer clothes, and a comfortable couch to sleep on. As time goes by, she quietly busies herself about the house. He cannot understand her acquiescence. She seems mildly amused that he expends so much energy trying to escape, or raging against his plight. Sometimes his frustration turns to anger at her, but she never shows the least resentment towards him. This is where she was born, she tells him, and she shows him favourite things and talks about her mother. Once, he glimpses her naked, a cleverly framed shot which reveals something important which many viewers will nonetheless miss. She doesn’t flirt with him and he makes no secret of being bored by her, but over time – and there is so much time – the two grow closer nonetheless.

Though it’s peppered with little clues, some of them mundane and some written on the surface of the desert itself, a playful symbolism, this isn’t really a film centred on mystery. Many viewers will figure it out early on and enjoy it no less as a result. The awful sense of inevitability which hangs over everything is perhaps something the man chooses not to see, as many people choose not to think about their own mortality or the potential meaninglessness of existence. The woman’s philosophy is different, less dependent on ego, at least for the meantime.

Not everything here makes logical sense, at least over time. There is a desperate precarity about it – and yet many people eke out precarious existences. In a vast land full of hidden places, stranger things have happened. Furthermore, this is a story which operates at a level where logic is less necessary, tapping into primal themes, digging its roots into the viewer’s psyche. It’s the sort of story rarely told in cinema today, and one which seems destined to attract a cult following. Screened as part of Tribeca 2023, it’s a rare pleasure, as compulsive as it is bleak, stunning to look at and elegant in its form.

Reviewed on: 12 Jun 2023
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When a hiker gets lost in the desert, a gang of feral children propelled by haunting legacies traps him in a sadistic battle for survival with a frightening endgame.

Director: Barnaby Clay

Writer: Barnaby Clay

Starring: Scott Haze, Kate Lyn Sheil

Year: 2023

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: US


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