Dorota Swies teams up with John C Lyons for her directorial debut and shines a spotlight on the horrific consequences of fracking in bleak drama Unearth. The flick centres around neighbouring families whose farms have both fallen under financial hardship. Hope for their future looks uncertain until one of the two are approached by a gas company willing to buy their land to drill on. This seems to be the miracle opportunity that could solve all their problems. However, their desperation leads to unseen and deadly consequences that reach beyond the environmental impact.
Much of this feature plays out like a kitchen sink drama in the vein of Ken Loach. The screenplay (penned by Lyons and Kelsey Goldberg) devotes its attention to how each character handles their given situation. Before fracking is brought into the narrative, a great deal of time and effort is put into establishing every personality as fully rounded and empathetic. Viewers understand the severity of their troubles and therefore sympathise with the choices that are ultimately made. With strong performances across the board (Adrienne Barbeau as a fiery matriarch is a particular highlight), the resulting tragedy hits all the harder.
The machinery that appears becomes a monstrous presence that’s always in the background. The fire it spews creates an ominous red glow at night, its mechanical shrieks dominate the once tranquil countryside and the drill and gears drip with a grotesque viscera. The imagery isn’t exactly subtle but it’s certainly apt. As time goes on, the threat posed by the contraption becomes harder to ignore.
A steady sense of unease gradually intensifies as events progress. Nonetheless, the filmmakers go one step too far with their ecological warning and whatever subtly remained after the climax is tossed aside to make way for all-out body horror. The characters’ fates are suitably gross, however the resulting shift in tone is distractingly jarring and comes off as silly in comparison to the film’s serious context.
Though Unearth starts off as a thoughtful and harrowing exploration of the consequences of fracking, the feature loses steam in an apogee that takes a wild detour from its subdued roots.
Unearth is released digitally on demand on 28th June 2021.
Watch the trailer for Unearth here: