The Seeding (2023)
Written and Directed by Barnaby Clay
Produced by Brian R. Etting and Josh H. Etting
Rated PG-13, 94m
The Seeding, written and directed by Barnaby Clay, debuted at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival. It is a film that subverts expectations by never altering its course. From the opening scene, a dirty toddler chewing what appears to be a baby carrot—until you notice the fingernail—to its violent conclusion, the movie follows a path that is predictable from early on, and in doing so succeeds only because the audience will naturally expect that something else has got to happen.
Set in the desert, a photographer (Scott Haze) ventures out far from anywhere to take photos of an eclipse. The desert landscape is barren but beautiful, majestic but forbidding. Returning to his vehicle, the photographer encounters a lost boy. The metaphor of the lost boy foreshadows everything that’s about to happen. The photographer offers to help the young teenager find his parents, and once help is accepted, the child runs off in the opposite direction from the photographer’s vehicle, claiming his parents are this way. Now, horror movies only work when the characters make poor decisions, and the photographer follows suit. He gives chase to the boy and eventually loses not only the child, but his way.
Lost, thirsty, and tired, the photographer spends a miserable night in the desert that appears less majestic and far more threatening. He escapes a tormenting band of savage teenagers, the original lost boy among them. As he flees, he stumbles upon a deep crater, where he hears a lone woman singing. Again, relying on his questionable logic, the photographer descends into the completely barren crater to seek assistance from this woman (Kate Lyn Sheil).
She is cagey yet very comfortable with his presence. If anything, he’s more concerned about being alone with a strange woman and how he may be perceived as a threat. She offers food, water, and a place to sleep, but little on his requests for directions, a phone, or help. In the morning, when the way he entered the crater has vanished, the photographer finally seems to sense that things are amiss. The woman is unconcerned that she’s trapped here. She’s even less concerned that her food and supplies are provided by the same savage teenagers who look and act like the movie is making a Lord of The Flies crossover. Their strange dress and incomprehensible chants evoke wild versions of the Lost Boys of James Matthew Barrie’s Peter Pan. And if these are the Lost Boys, then the woman must be Wendy, their “mother”.
The story is told over the course of many months, the passage of time shown by both story cards announcing the full moon and the woman’s hash-marks of menstrual blood on the wall. Although never elaborated on, there are so many that it is clearly impossible they are all hers. The photographer makes several escape attempts, and eventually his will is broken, and he begins to accept his fate as prisoner. Essentially kept alive by the woman’s goodwill, their relationship moves to the bedroom, and she becomes pregnant.
The movie is very deliberately paced—at 94 minutes, I’d argue it’s a little slow, and scored with the most basic, grating low-budget horror soundtrack. It sounds more like a violin bow on a saw. There was a lot about this film, from its art-house style to the unsympathetic decisions of the victim, that didn’t work for me. But played as a version of Peter Pan where there is no Peter to lead the Lost Boys, where toxic masculinity is bred into them at birth, this gritty Never Never Land becomes a parable. The photographer is the soft modern man, whose decisions are based on empathy, played against the violence and savagery of a selfish, survivalist, all-me society. Wendy’s family are the savages we come to expect from stories like Lord of the Flies, and they are terrifying because there are no consequences, no matter how vile their actions. Their mother is not trapped in the crater but unwilling to leave it. But this crater also becomes a metaphor for the woman and the society she choose to create: barren and corrupt, until a thoroughly modern man descends into it and attempts to bring life to it, ultimately to succeed and fail—both miserably.
This movie marks Barnaby Clay’s directorial debut, and between the way he uses imagery of the same landscape to depict metaphorical heaven or hell, and his subversion of a popular children’s story to create a very modern, very savage horror yarn, I believe he is an artist to watch.