Who doesn’t love a movie that begins with a child wandering in the desert, eating a human finger?
So begins writer/director Barnaby Clay‘s first feature film. The prolific music video director has crafted a gorgeous and harrowing film about a man – Scott Haze‘s Wyndham Stone – who winds up imprisoned in a desert canyon, at the mercy of a band of feral boys and a mysterious woman (Kate Lyn Sheil‘s Alina).
What’s immediately apparent is how well shot the film is. Stone has set out on foot in the desert (the film was shot in Utah) to photograph an eclipse. The scenery is stunningly beautiful, even though it carries a vaguely threatening aura (an early aerial shot reinforces just how isolated Stone is). The danger from exposure and dehydration alone is enough; which is why Stone winds up assisting a young boy who claims he’s lost his family.
As the sun sets, it’s clear to everyone but Stone that this is a trap and, in short order, the man finds himself at the bottom of a deep canyon without a ladder and only Alina’s small cottage for refuge.
From there The Seeding settles into a rhythm: Stone tries to engage Alina in conversation, which she demurely declines. He plots to find a way up the steep canyon walls to access the remains of a ladder; he fails. He hurts himself, sulks, gardens, and drinks when a care package with booze arrives. Throughout it all, title cards denoting different Moons capture the passing of time as Stone uncovers secrets about Alina, the boys, and his situation.
All of this is captured in breathtakingly beauty. Cinematographer Robert Leitzell and Clay find the richness and the grotesque in the setting – from the disintegrating birds in the Moon title cards to the sumptuous rust coloured walls of the canyon to the haunting image of a body suspended in mid-air, The Seeding is a visually rich viewing experience.
Alas, it’s the narrative that lets the film down. For a film that only features two characters and takes place in an extremely isolated location, the monotony and the predictability is a challenge.
From the film’s title to the opening scene with the little boy’s snack to the film’s final moments, every single development in The Seeding can be seen coming from a mile away. This isn’t always an issue for films, but considering the audience is meant to associate with Stone’s plight, it’s a problem when we’re always two steps ahead of him. The result is that Stone comes off as an idiot for continually misreading the situation.
Not helping matters is The Seeding’s lethargic pace. Despite clocking in at only ninety four minutes, the film feels much longer. The last act, in particular, feels interminable, but not in the way Clay clearly intends. It should be an endurance test as Stone reaches his physical and mental breaking point, but instead it simply feels cumbersome and repetitive. One begins to wish the film would just hurry up and get to its predetermined outcome, which has been teased for the entirety of the film.
It’s a shame because the other elements of the film are so strong. In addition to the film’s stunning visuals, Haze is solid as a man slowly going mad, while Sheil’s Alina remains enigmatic throughout. A tighter edit and a less conventional script would have gone a long way to complementing the film’s memorable visuals. Clay proves he’s a director to watch in the future, but The Seeding is only half successful. 3/5
The Seeding played at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival