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An exquisitely cultivated and dread-inducing desert horror, “The Seeding” should break through the genre clutter to find an eager audience.

The Seeding

Scott Haze and Kate Lyn Sheil in THE SEEDING, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

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Before each section of Barnaby Clay’s psychological horror film The Seeding, viewers see a title card announcing the moon phase and showing a plate of food, including a dead bird. As the movie continues, the meals become more and more rancid.

This juxtaposition of life and renewal (the moon) with tragedy and death (the decaying meal and bird) provided the perfect backdrop for this astonishing horror movie about an isolated desert community.

The film opens with Wyndham Stone (Scott Haze) taking photos of an eclipse in the American desert. The brutality of the desert is shown right away: As soon as he finishes his meal, ants swarm his chicken scraps as he rests his head on a rock, blissfully unaware.

When he spots a young boy alone, he tries to track him down, assuming he can reunite the child with his parents.

After Wyndham loses track of the boy, he is left shivering and alone in the desert air – until he spots a young woman living in a small canyon accessible only by ladder.

The woman is Alina (Kate Lyn Sheil), who lives by herself at the bottom of the canyon; a feral gang of menacing boys and men drop her down supplies.

The boys and men have removed the ladder between Alina’s world at the bottom of the canyon and their world at the top of the canyon, making it impossible for Wyndham to leave this desert community, which the boys call “The Palace.”

While Wyndham cycles from rage to childish resentment to reluctant acceptance of his new life in the canyon, Alina remains calm, cool, and collected.

She butchers chickens without batting an eye. She shows no fear about taking in the volatile Wyndham, even when he is cruel or vicious toward her. She also has no fear of the boys and men who live “above” them and taunt Wyndham; she has compassion for them, telling him, “They’re strays. The desert brings them together.”

The desert provides a fitting setting for The Seeding.

The Seeding

The rawness and isolation, the sounds of the canyon, and the spookiness of the desert dwellers’ strange chanting all combine to ramp up the uneasiness and terror Wyndham feels.

The images of death and dying are ever-present: a fly slowly drowning in a pail of water, a limp butchered chicken – even the graphic depiction of a boy from The Palace killed in one of the most horrifyingly vivid death scenes in a modern film.

As Wyndham and Alina grow closer, she shares that one of her female relatives – a woman she refers to as “the first mother” – lived in the desert many generations before she did. She tells him, “Mother said we live in the desert, but out there lives the mirage. Here, it’s all sand, stone, body, and flesh. No mirage. All very real.”

Her commitment to life in the desert, which is indeed as “real” as one can get, has been passed down by the women in her family.

Mothering, in one way or another, is a central theme in THE SEEDING.

Kate Lyn Sheil in THE SEEDING, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

In a literal seeding, Wyndham and Alina work together to garden in the canyon. Alina also marks the days of her menstrual cycle with bloody fingerprints on the wall of her bedroom. (This is just one of the ways bodily fluids are cleverly used throughout the film.) Like the moon phases mentioned in the title cards, these cycles of life and renewal are constant themes in the film.

As Wyndham struggles to understand his place in The Palace, the foreboding atmosphere of the desolate desert and its mysterious occupants grows until the tension is almost unbearable.

The Seeding is a master class in using place as an effective source of horror, and Clay’s ability to combine the desert’s eerie sounds with its frightening visuals will leave viewers with a lingering sense of dread.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 5
For more on The Seeding, read Morbidly Beautiful’s interview with writer and director Barnaby Clay. 
Magnolia Pictures (through their genre arm Magnet) will release The Seeding nationwide in theaters and on VOD on January  26, 2024. 

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