Over recent months, I have started doing my bit for the environment and animals. It has been an interesting journey that has literally seen me go from joking about preferring eating a steak to dating a vegan to living life as a vegan myself. I know the shock propaganda screaming ‘meat is murder’ does not work, and yet discussion is needed around these, and other, topics in order to facilitate change that benefits all.
Therefore, my interest was piqued when I saw two eco-horror films being showcased at Grimmfest that appealed to my new found values; Anonymous Animals and Unearth. It made for an intense and unsettling afternoon.
Baptiste Rouveure (And The Winner Is) writes and directs this experimental horror focused on a series of haunting, often disturbing, vignettes related to the imbalance of power between mankind and animals. Taking the abuse of animals and turning it against the human, Anonymous Animals attempts to question the atrocities of mankind as well as our place in society.
The physical performances from the cast are both evocative and curious, as we are plunged into a world where we can hear communication between the humanoids but do not understand it. Hence the audience are left confused and disorientated, much like animals in real life.
Perhaps the most harrowing sequence was the story of the ‘dog’ which sees a wide-eyed and frightened Theirry Marcos left chained to a tree with various scars from a beating. He is picked up by a dog-headed humanoid in a van. The humanoid feeds him and tends his wounds, giving us a sense that not all is bad in the world as Theirry’s character starts to relax and trust his keeper. Events take a cruel twist that leads to a tragic end which had me in tears.
However, apart from the Dog vignette there is no arc in the vignettes that would elicit sufficient empathy from the audience. For example, we witness a group of young people herded into an abattoir pen only slowly to be picked off one by one. It makes for tense watching but we are not rooting for the characters, and nor is the horror of such places truly represented.
If Rouveure’s intention is to provoke change within the audience, then I fear the film may miss the mark. However, for those who already empathise with the plight of animals, then it presents a thought provoking piece that allows you to examine your values without the confrontation and propaganda seen on social media.
Kathryn Dolan (Adrienne Barbeau) is the hard-headed matriarch of a farming family she feels is coming apart at the seams, and George Lomack (Marc Blucas) is a single dad whose wife left him with two daughters, the youngest of whom has just become a single parent herself. There is an understanding and camaraderie between the families until George sells his land to a natural gas company and the true horrors of fracking are unearthed.
Fracking is still very much a confused topic. On one hand eco-capitalists are hailing fracking as a modern miracle; satisfying the demand for sustainable energy that does not cost the earth – both literally and figuratively. However, early research demonstrates that fracking poses various risks which are not fully understood.
Unearth makes great use of this obvious allegory by starting off as a working class drama full of social realism, focussing on the reality of rural economic struggles, and the predicaments facing farmers in the 21st century. Then the plot spirals into gruesome horror to fully hammer home its ecological message.
I loved Unearth’s honesty about the sheer helplessness of those within rural communities. The Lomack family particularly epitomises the struggle of such families. George is in serious financial debt because of a declining business in a declining community/economy, to the point he has to take shifts mopping floors in a takeout restaurant on the side. Lack of business and insurmountable debt, including hospital bills for Kim’s recent birth, also drives him to alcoholism and to occasionally contemplate suicide. All these issues are very real issues people face in rural areas due to a rapidly declining economy and consumer demand.
The film is a slow burn as it explores the dynamics of each family and their relationship to the land and each other. Each character is multi-dimensional and well portrayed by the cast. It is entirely necessary that we fully understand and empathise with the characters when Natural gas company, Patriot Exploration, offers to buy the land. It would be all too easy to view George as selfish, ignorant and money- hungry. Instead, our insight into the characters enables us to see the true antagonists – both in the film and in life – eco-capitalists preying on the rural class.
We feel the pain as George’s decision instantly backfires when the $1200 per acre he was promised is offset against various hidden costs, leading him into further debt and despair. But then the true horror starts to unfold in the second act, as we bear witness to fracking’s destructive altering of the natural landscape and physical human form, representative of humanity’s intricate connection to the land.
Unearth embodies this by having poisonous spores released from deep inside the earth by fracking alter the Dolan and Lomack families, destroying them mentally and physically. It is both beautiful and frightening, as nature is itself.