Horror, as a feeling, isn’t necessarily something that jumps out and scares you. It’s not always a masked killer lurking in the dark, or some tentacled eldritch monstrosity looming closer and closer. Sometimes, horror can be something as simple as not knowing what you yourself might do next. Sometimes it’s not being able to stop yourself from doing something unspeakable. Sometimes, the horror is simply you.
Seeds, the debut feature from Owen Long, relies almost entirely on the concept of the monstrous being entirely human. And not in the “entirely human” way of say Leatherface or Michael Myers. For Long, the monster is not a masked lunatic out to quench their thirst for blood, but rather a man struggling with his own internal and infernal desires. Seeds is a streamlined and sleek movie that cuts to the bone with its subject matter, telling a story about taboos and transgressions in a simple and no nonsense manner. Trevor Long (Ozark) plays Marcus, a man haunted by his own excess seeking solace at his family estate in coastal New England. Marcus’ plans for a quiet time are ruined when his brother unexpectedly calls on him to watch his children for a few days while he goes out of town. The problem arises when it becomes clear that not only does Marcus have a sick desire to be with his teenage niece, but also she may or may not have the same desire to be with him.
Marcus’ is a world in which the monotony of every day life is only broken only by bouts of sexual deviancy. The director dedicates much of the film to his humdrum routine of doing electrical work, changing mouse traps, and other boring errands that highlight the dullness of his exterior life. The moments in which his illness is displayed are terrifyingly realistic, in that they evoke a sense of empathy in the viewer that makes his appetites even more disgusting. He is clearly a sick man, even aside from his desire for his niece. We are seeing a man suffering, and Trevor Long excels at portraying that suffering. It is suffering not just from mental illness, but also from knowing that his desired relationship is grossly improper. Long (the actor) paints a picture of a man who very clearly loves his niece and nephew in a wholesome way – there are times in the film where his affection for them is very real. But when the hints of the obscene begin to show, his own internal revulsion mirrors that of the audience. Marcus is desperately struggling not to give in to temptation for what even for he, sick and deprived, is something off limits and forbidden. It’s this aspect of the film that is sure to evoke the most visceral reaction from viewers – a blend of sympathy and disgust.
Seeds at once looks gorgeous and oppressive, capturing the often bleak feeling of the New England coast At times the film has an almost Lovecraftian feel to it; the locale, mixed with the concept of some horrible past sin coming back to haunt the protagonist (appropriately enough in the hallucinated form of a tentacular monster) certainly feels like something out of a Lovecraft tale. The mentally unstable main character lends the film a touch of Kubrick as well, in that our point of view is from an unreliable narrator. We are never certain what is actually happening as opposed to what Marcus thinks is happening. What is being dreamt and what is consensual reality are never agreed upon, and this uncertainty makes the film even more nightmarish.
The sexualization of a teenage girl is something that many (myself included) might have a problem with, and the only defense I can imagine is that it is being portrayed as something horrible and wrong. Nonetheless, there were still times I found myself wincing at how the camera lingered over Andrea Chen’s body or at how some of the innocent touches between her and Long became decidedly not innocent the longer they lasted. It’s effective, yes, but it’s also a bit much at times.
Transgression and taboo breaking make for great horror films. When done right, it can be like a punch to the stomach that leaves the viewer gasping. This isn’t shockmeister nonsense like A Serbian Film or The Human Centipede. The closest contemporaries it would have would be films like Possum or The Strange Thing About The Johnsons. It is an unflinching but restrained examination of temptation and self-loathing, of the struggle to abstain from something we desperately want but that we know will ruin us. If you’re looking for a good time, don’t watch this film. It is anything but that. But it is a well crafted and effective piece of art that accomplishes what it sets out to do and excels at doing what it wants. Seeds will make your skin crawl – and you may want to take a shower after watching it – but in the end it’s a powerfully paradoxical blend of contempt and empathy that shouldn’t be missed.