Tribeca: ‘Unearthed’ Gets the Smack Down, Double Time

Today we added two reviews for Matthew Leutwyler’s Unearthed, which played this past weekend at the Tribeca Film Festival in NY. The first review can be found by clicking here, while the other can be found by reading on. After a sinister crash on the highway in a small New Mexican town, people start disappearing and animals and nature begin dying. The Sheriff (Vaugier) investigates, only to actually witness a killer creature and realizes that the creature is the reason for the disappearances and deaths. After surviving an attack, The Sheriff and others try to survive the creature and being killed.
Unearthed (Tribeca)
Review by: BC
1/5 Skulls

I am a fairly easy guy to please when it comes to modern horror movies. On this site alone I have given mostly positive reviews to widely panned films like Dead Silence, The Return, and the remakes of The Hitcher and Black Christmas. “Keep me entertained” is pretty much all I ask anymore. Knowing who the films are made for (and by), I go in with low expectations and they are often met; sometimes exceeded. They got my money; I was entertained for 90 minutes. Satisfaction on both sides is obtained, and I forget all about the movie a week or so later.

So when I see a film that can’t even manage that much, it’s even MORE of an annoyance. One such film is Unearthed, which was written and directed by Dead & Breakfast’s Matthew Leutwyler. D&B was a missed opportunity, but Leutwyler showed some promise, and I was eager to see what he could pull off with a bigger budget and more professional cast and crew on his 2nd film. But while watching this film, it quickly became clear that the best I could hope for was that perhaps the 3rd time will be the charm.

We start off promisingly, with a trucker (who has an amusingly abnormal love for his dogs) wrecking his truck while trying to avoid something in the road. The road is the only one out of town, so a few locals and some others passing through are now stuck. So, OK, you might think “that’s like Tremors”, but that’s fine. Tremors is a great film, why not make another in the same vein? Who doesn’t love a “monster in the middle of nowhere” movie?

But it all goes downhill, quickly. After this opening, the humor is gone entirely, and all we are left with are cardboard stock characters: the sheriff (Emmanuelle Vaugier) with a drinking problem and a skeleton in her closet; the arrogant local farmer (M.C. Gainey) who is mysteriously losing cows; two blond bimbos (including Turistas’ Beau Garrett) who are en route to Hollywood, a big city jerk (Charlie Murphy) who will do anything to help himself, etc.. There’s even a wise old American Indian for good measure. Their names don’t matter, because all you need to know about them is in the above character description. In Feast, they utilized the idea of stock characters for laughs, and then used that to play against our expectations. Here, they are all played straight, and they are all boring as sin. It’s not that they are jerks who you WANT to see die, no, they are just sort of there, and you won’t care whether they die or not, just as long as an ending eventually occurs. Eventually the monster comes along, and then it just becomes a waiting game as to who survives, just like every other monster movie you don’t bother to watch because you’ve seen a hundred other ones just like it.

In Dead & Breakfast there was a lot of humor mixed with the horror, so one would expect this to take a similar route. But apart from the dog guy at the beginning, there is no humor at all. It’s a film that takes itself seriously. Which would be fine if the monster action was top notch, or even serviceable. But no, because without a doubt, the monster is one of the absolute worst ever seen (yes, worse than even the CG hyenas in Exorcist 4) due to substandard CG compositing, rendering, motion, everything. At no point does the CG monster look like anything that even approaches convincing. There are occasional shots in which a rubber or man in suit monster is utilized, but they are few and far between. And bad CG or not, the monster is such a ripoff of Giger’s Alien that I wouldn’t be surprised if he sued.

The editing is also a mess. Scenes are constantly being interrupted by suddenly cutting to other characters doing things like fiddle with a radio or make popcorn; there are bizarre freeze frames during some of the monster attacks; and it is almost always unclear as to where the characters are in relation to one another (or to the monster). There’s also one of the stupidest stunts ever committed to film (its not enough to have someone fly back from an explosion, so they have her do THREE backflips as she goes! It’s as stupid as it sounds), subplots that go nowhere… actually, it’s easier to just point out what DOES work.

Well for starters, the acting is pretty good. Nearly all of the cast have prior genre experience, and they do what they can with the material. The origin of the monster is pretty interesting: its DNA is combined of all five different types of DNA (plant, fungus, animal, etc), but sadly the ideas are not fleshed out enough. The practical makeup effects also impress, particularly a head torn apart later in the film. And the score by Joseph Bishara is often moody and atmospheric, like the best John Carpenter scores (there’s a fantastic cue at the beginning of the 3rd act, when the heroes all enter a mine/cave thing of some sort). All of these things would have easily elevated the film above any of its peers, but instead they are all betrayed and wasted by the sub-par writing, editing, and directing. It’s a shame, and perhaps Leutwyler and the rest of the creative team should apologize to them, as their skills could have been put to better use in a better film.

The best praise a low budget film can earn is when someone says “this movie looks like it cost a lot” when it in fact cost very little. According to the IMDb, this film cost around 2 million, but it looks like about 200,000. And that is a shame, because at least on paper, this could have been a fun film, at least on par with the ones mentioned in the beginning of the review. But in reality, other than the makeup and the score, there is really nothing to recommend here.

Basically, I really wanted to like the film, but the film refused to let me.

Source: Other review here