The Seeding (2023)

Director: Barnaby Clay

Running Time: 100 Minutes

Starring: Scott Haze, Kate Lyn Sheil, Alex Montaldo, Charlie Avink

With a career that involves directing music videos and the documentary SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock, Barnaby Clay makes his narrative feature debut with this desert-set tale of isolation. This feature opens in a startling way that is sure to grab one's attention, as a dirty toddler wanders the desert alone calling out for mama, whilst sucking on a severed finger as though it were a pacifier.

Arriving at the desert is Wyndham Stone (Scott Haze), who intends to photograph an eclipse. While walking back to his car, his attempts to help an apparently lost child end with Wyndham being taken further from the main road before being abandoned. The stranded man stumbles in the darkness until discovering a crater, and climbs down a rope ladder to find help from the house located within. He meets Alina (Kate Lyn Sheil), a woman living off-grid who offers food and a place to rest, although the next morning leaves Wyndham shocked as he discovers the rope ladder is missing. Matters worsen when an attempt to climb out results in an injured leg, leaving him trapped in the crater at the whim of sadistic desert-dwelling boys.

Writer/Director Clay effectively conveys so much through a minimalistic approach, allowing the sight of mysterious markings on the wall or the contents of Wyndham's wallet to offer explanation without exposition. It effectively pairs with the evocative look at the landscape, as Robert Leitzell's cinematography makes the wide and open space feel so confining. Adding to the uncomfortable situation are horrific images depicting nature in motion, while Tristan Bechet's unearthly score phenomenally captures this unsettling situation.

Boxed in by the stray boys who alternate between offering sustenance and torment, Haze effectively conveys Wyndham's exasperation as he grows irritated with the situation. He falls into hostility and alcohol-soaked despair to replace the extinguishing hopes at returning to his old life, while Alina offers to care for him as she approaches the circumstances with a quiet acceptance. She considers their closed-off life to be full of real things while everything outside is a mirage, something reflected in how Wyndham wants freedom from the crater while being unsure of what he would do with said freedom.

Approaching familiar territory with a subversive spin and a pessimistic look at humanity, Clay uses the 100-minute runtime to lure viewers into the proceedings before closing the grip and threatening to squeeze the light out of viewers. A key line shared is how "Nothing in the desert is wasted", something which effectively reflects how each minute of this tremendous film feels vital.