(( Really big *SPOILERS* / Watch before reading!! ))
SEEDS (the film's director - Owen Long - tells us in his FRIGHTFEST intro) was a family affair. Produced by his wife and starring his brother and featuring his son, it was also a work of love over many years. Having his wife on board was - apparently - a way to make the often near the knuckle themes on screen more palatable, in that the scenario is not seen solely through a male gaze. (We are also assured that female journalists have been especially praising the movie out loud - so don't panic!) This politically correctionalising build up clearly something of a forewarning - to those of delicate sensibilities; like a hardened horror crowd - that things aren't going to get pretty.
To be honest, it wasn't that shocking what followed in terms of on-screen deed (bad enough in thought more). But it was still pretty authentically weird and unsettling stuff. And nowhere close to mainstream. Nuh-huh.
A teenage girl (Lily, played by Andrea Chen - not teenage) and her brother (Garr Long as Spencer) have to stay with their creepy Uncle Marcus (Trevor Long) for a few weeks after their mother flees the family nest and Daddy needs to sort stuff out. Enter a whole new kind of family nest: there's something nasty in the house (yeah - and in the cellar) and it has a whole lot of tentacles going on... And up.. And down.. And stick legs that click around naked flesh as you sleep at night.
So keep your PJs on. And a bottle of Cthulhu repellent...
You never really know, or find out, whether the creature really exists or represents the uncle's descent into shame, regret and worsening psychosis at what he may have once done. A weird friend or acquaintance of his lingers around the house - supplying drugs. Possibly controlling the whole situation. Or is he just a shrink coming round, being kind? A dealer in illegal uppers? You decide!
A coda to the movie sees a young boy swimming with his mother in a sun-glittering sea; he picks up the shell with a creepy crawly thing inside it, from the bottom of the sea bed. Just like Lily had done at the start of the movie, back when she had visited her uncle at - it seems - an earlier place and time. But possibly the same place. Err - and time (if I had been watching this on disc I'd have checked the rewind). That initial point in time though, could have been when the horrific abuse - if that is what happened - took place. The thing in the shell her weapon. Grown up. Protecting...
Now the little girl is older. In her late teens. And she tempts and teases her uncle almost like a cruel joke. He refuses to act on his clear desires and you start to wonder if he ever even did. Is he just being possessed and seduced by a creature from the deep? He certainly doesn't act on the girl's obsessive teasing - not even when trapped up close in a cupboard with her, when playing sardines - her little brother out of the way. Or when she wriggles around on the sofa in next to nothing beside him.
A flashback features a nude girl on a bed cavorting with a man, but she wears an animal mask and we are unsure who she is with - but it's probably Marcus. That creepy unknown stranger with the handful of pills then appears to him in another room straight after the sex - a hush hush deal. Is money changing hands/ is this man some kind of pimp/ a trader in young girls - or a keeper of monsters come to collect?
Garr Long, as the mysterious girl's younger brother also staying at the house of horror, is wary-eyed and quietly detached. It's a nicely understated turn from this young actor. He also gets - and gives - the best line/ moment in the movie when (entirely unexpectedly, as you previously think only his sister is aware of the dangers that lurk down the corridors) the boy calmly tells Marcus, as he's saying goodnight, that he's: "a monster".
Andrea Chen as Lily is fabulous: part knowing tease, part terrifying creature haunting the house - or traumatised victim of cruel obsession. She effortlessly flits between all of the above in a bewildering, beguiling, rotation.
But the acting honours must go to Trevor (Ozark) Long as Uncle Marcus with a demeanor that reminded of Harry Dean Stanton in WILD AT HEART: entirely aware of the unnatural horrors he finds himself surrounded by (whether through his own fault or not) but also entirely resigned to the things that go slither in the dark. His already nearly complete decay, captured up close on grainy, dirty film - as gritty as the hollowed-out look in his eyes - is a stark contrast to the ocean setting and brightness outside that starts and ends the movie.
Uncle Marcus is the coolest of cats - if only he wasn't so tainted and corrrupt. I kind of hoped that by the end of the movie he'd be cleared of all those things we suspect he may have done and be fighting the monster out back. That really didn't happen.
Director Owen Long handles the horror well: a tentacled beast in the cellar could just as equally be a faulty set of wiring on the wall, and the thing glimpsed up a tree could equally be gnarled stumps or phallic monstrosity. Maybe it's all of the above - a place become living evil 'thing'; a place seething with old haunted house gloom and clouds of dusty depravity.
Much like the girl on the bed in a mask, the disguises in this movie remain on, and there is no easy final reveal. We are always left wondering whose gaze to believe. Which isn't to say that people don't die horribly in clear cut ways - they do. One incident involving a wired-up door is extremely depressing to witness. Another electrocution claims another good guy - just visiting (for good). Or was he taken by something more visceral than a bunch of faulty wiring? Certainly here in this house be monsters of some kind, even if the true nature of that horror is kept from clear sight - like a sea creature withdrawing in a shell.
SEEDS is a stylishly directed, slithery-footed, thinking fan's monster movie full of gloomy gothic style and modern edge. It's fairly cautious in overindulging in exploitation (probably best with such a sensitive theme at its heart) but isn't shy in pushing the ickiness right up to the surface. Although my first thoughts upon leaving the FRIGHTFEST screening were of describing the movie as Lyne's LOLITA meets Zulawski's POSSESSION, I think it's more subtle than that. I think it has its own identity that I can't really pigeonhole.
This has been a FRIGHTFEST full of unexpected subtlety in the choice of films on offer, from the teen angst of the dead hush of THE DARK to the pulsing rise and fall of CLIMAX (that triggered all those demanding more blood and body fluid in a Gaspar Noe movie being hilariously, cruelly, denied).
I can't get those films, or SEEDS, out of my head. And I can't get the wide tortured eyes of Uncle Marcus out of my head. I can't let go. The horror has been passed on now - to us. Will always be inside us. Wherever we go.
All slippery and wet.
The place to discuss FrightFest 2018 - Dates this year are 23 - 27th August.
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