By George Bate & Josh Reilly B.
Creepy kids have been a fixture of horror films dating back decades. An unsettling feeling can emerge when children, typically seen as innocent and idyllic, are twisted and transformed into a source of pure terror. The Omen perhaps most famously achieved this feat with Damien (and that chilling final shot), but there have been plenty of unsettling horror movie kids with the likes of Regan in The Exorcist, Gage in Pet Sematary, the twins in The Shining, and the titular children in Children of the Corn. The Seeding, a new slow-burn horror film premiering at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, takes the creepy kids horror trope in a novel and terrifying direction.
The Seeding comes from prolific music video director Barnaby Clay and stars Scott Haze, who has previously played roles in Thank You for Your Service and Venom. Haze plays a hiker, who attempts to capture a lunar eclipse in the isolation of the California desert. After encountering a lost child, the man’s Good Samaritanism goes awry as he finds himself trapped in a pit with a mysterious woman (played by Kate Lyn Sheil) by a menacing group of kids.
The Seeding is a carefully crafted and methodically paced horror thriller that is more disturbing and unnerving than it is conventionally scary. This isn’t the sort of horror film that terrifies with jump scares or blood and guts, but, rather, a film that takes its time to get under one’s skin.
Opening with Haze’s character isolated in the depths of the California desert, the audience immediately adopts his perspective, meaning that the horrors he will encounter are horrors the audience will encounter, because we are him. Much of this horror comes from the sense of isolation its core premise imbues. Leaning into the horror underlying the likes of 127 Hours, The Seeding follows a man trapped in a massive pit with no way to climb out. Director Clay effectively evokes a sense of claustrophobia as the man (and the audience) are trapped with no escape. With a series of wide shots conveying the depth of the pit and the isolation of the desert, Clay captures a scope to the lead character’s predicament that further adds to the perpetually present sense of doom.
Being trapped, however, may be the least of one’s worries with The Seeding. It quickly becomes clear that the man was lured into the pit by a gang of malicious children. Sporting odd jewelry, off-beat haircuts, and a scattered array of misfitting clothes, the teenage boys who trapped the man are terrifying. Their callousness and lack of empathy, in addition to their perception of the man and the woman in the pit as sub-human, makes for an uncomfortable viewing experience in which the audience comes to dread every time the boys come back on screen. In the absence of parents in a manner not dissimilar from Children of the Corn, the boys are dangerously unchecked and unaccountable for their actions, making their impulsivity and brutality all the more horrifying. There’s definitely more subtext to the villainous kids and the way in which they represent the depraved impulses of toxic masculinity, especially as the film progresses and introduces the mysterious woman with a strange connection to them.
With its slow-burn approach, The Seeding requires patience for all of its different elements to fall into place. This makes the first two acts of the film particularly compelling as the narrative remains shrouded in intrigue. Who are the teens? What is their motivation? Who is the mysterious woman trapped in the pit with the man? Much of the film is shrouded in intrigue as these questions circulate and the audience will inevitably theorize as to what’s really going on. As the film concludes and answers some of the questions it poses, the intrigue dissipates and the film loses momentum. In other terms, hypothesizing about what’s going on proves to be more interesting than actually finding out what’s going on. In turn, the ending of The Seeding will likely yield divisive reactions similar to other slow-burn, cerebral horror films like It Comes At Night and The Invitation.
Until that ending though, The Seeding will appeal to horror faithful. Leaning into its array of influences, including The Hills Have Eyes, Picnic At Hanging Rock, 127 Hours, and Children of the Corn, Clay constructs a film that simultaneously pays homage to horror that has come beforehand while feeling like the result of a singular vision.
Scott Haze, a phenomenal and underrated actor who has appeared in the likes of Midnight Special, Child of God, and Only the Brave, is terrific in the film as he plays a man whose journey in the desert could not have gone any worse. In particular, Haze plays the downward trajectory of his character well as the myriad of horrors begin to take physical and mental tolls on his character. His co-star Kate Lyn Sheil, meanwhile, excels in a more subdued role, delivering minimal dialogue consistent with her mysterious presence in the film.
The Seeding is pure nightmare fuel, a twisted concoction of hopeless isolation and terrifying teens that makes for a slow-burn horror odyssey. Influenced by the likes of Children of the Corn and 127 Hours, the film from writer/director Barnaby Clay works well as a slow-burn and unique piece of horror cinema, but loses momentum in its final act in which reveals are made and questions are answered. Scott Haze excels as a man whose act of Good Samaritanism finds himself trapped in a situation that begins to take both a physical and mental toll. Although it doesn’t excite and fright with jump scares and blood and guts, The Seeding works on a more cerebral level and will change the way in which one views the antics of teenage boys. As far as creepy kid horror films go, they don’t get more unsettling than The Seeding.