2023 saw us celebrate 50 years of The Wicker Man, the iconic Robin Hardy film which popularised the folk horror movement. In the past five decades, we have seen scores of frightening folk films, from Midsommar to The Ritual, Lamb, The VVitch, and Enys Men drawing on the terror of the natural world and those that worship it.
In his feature debut, director Barnaby Clay has created The Seeding, drawing on elements of folk horror and survival thrillers, swapping the conventional lush, dreary forests for the harsh climate of a remote desert. After having its world premiere at Tribeca in June 2023 followed by its UK premiere at FrightFest two months later, the film is set to be available to rent and buy digitally on February 12.
Starring Jurassic World Dominion's Scott Haze and You're Next star Kate Lyn Sheil, The Seeding follows Wyndham Stone (Haze) who becomes stranded in a remote desert after travelling there to witness a solar eclipse. He comes across a shack in the middle of a crater, which he climbs down a ladder to and finds Alina (Sheil). After accepting her offer of food and shelter for the night, Stone wakes to find the ladder has disappeared and he is now trapped in the crater with no hope of exit, taunted by a gang of feral children who also hold the key to his and Alina's survival – supplies.
The premise of The Seeding is enough to make viewers' blood run cold before they begin, and the opening scene of a toddler chewing on a severed finger catapults you right into the thick of the horror. Sprawling drone shots of the fiery, orange desert coupled with close-ups of spiky, dried plants and jagged rock faces compound the perilous situation Stone finds himself in by using the majesty of the elements as the catalyst for the fear felt by both him and the audience.
The chanting of the children, shrieks of laughter and haunting soundtrack accompany the visuals beautifully, with each act of the film titled with different phases of the moon separated by the image of a decomposing meal, a sombre metaphor for Stone's slowly eroding optimism of finding salvation. Haze's performance as Stone is captivating from start to finish, with his descent into hopelessness palpable in every scene, while Sheil finely balances the dualling qualities of the naive housewife and strong leader that become increasingly blurred as the film continues.
But what starts as a tense, edge-of-your-seat thriller slowly dissolves as the third act continues, as The Seeding never quite reaches the shocking culmination that viewers may expect to counteract the bombardment of stunning imagery. We get little tasters of this through the fate of Lepus (Thatcher Jacobs), a child that takes a liking to Stone, but we never get enough gore and shock to satisfy appetites. The careful characterisation of Stone and Alina falls apart in the final scenes, particularly in the empowering, unique representation of Alina and her position in the events of the film leaving a sour taste behind.
While The Seeding has all the makings of a folk film that could become a staple of a horror fan's collection with wondrous cinematography and powerhouse performances, it never quite reaches its frightening potential and ends up becoming a victim of predictable tropes and a lacklustre third act which fails to provide a satisfying conclusion after such a strong setup.
The Seeding will be able to rent and buy digitally from February 12.