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The Seed Has the Bodysnatchers Invade Again
It's a little repetitive, but still fun.
Sam Walker’s The Seed, now available on Shudder, is a clever riff on Invasion of the Body Snatchers with more gore and sex, and an unexpected focus on female friendships and conflicting desires. It has a number of plot problems, and isn’t quite sure how to resolve the issues it raises. But it’s a promising debut.
Three childhood friends—extrovert fabulous social media-influencer Deidre (Lucy Martin), introvert Luddite working-class Charlotte (Chelsea Edge), and wealthy, nervous, and indecisive Heather (Sophie Vavasseur)—drive to Heather’s father’s luxurious home in the Mojave desert to hang out and watch a once-in-a-lifetime meteor shower. During the shower, something which definitely is not an armadillo hurtles from the sky and lands in the pool. It is heavy and mottled and smells bad. But one by one it starts to grow on them. And in them.
The thing’s head is too big for its grotesque body, and it squawks loudly and terrifyingly when distressed or when it wants food. It’s a kind of nightmare baby, and the women’s fascination with it is presented as a twisted maternal impulse.
The baby creature also has some sort of hypnotic power to pull the women into a sexual fugue state involving psychedelic visions, slime, and tentacles. When it’s done with them, they exhibit ominous Alien-like appetites for large quantities of food.
Horror movies are often about a monstrous feminine—a kind of shapeless gendered degendering nightmare which seduces and corrupts male bodies and male bodily integrity. The Seed flips that around. The creature here might be called a monstrous masculine, which cajoles and mesmerizes and tentacle-sexes women into gendered roles. The women’s-only getaway fractures and ichorously dissolves as Charlotte, Deirdre, and Heather find themselves confusingly and out of chronology becoming pregnant, falling in love/lust, and acting as moms. Something male enters their relationship, and the apocalypse comes close behind.
That’s a great premise, and the film has moments that live up to it. The baby-thing in itself is a great invention as a practical effect; it manages to be repulsive and just neotenous enough to be a little cute if you look at it sideways. The dream-state sex monstrosity has some of the squicky energy of the fleshy climax of The Society. And in one of the best set-pieces, Heather eats eggs as finger-food, letting the yolk drip down her chin with grotesque sensuality, while Lucy Martin as Deirdre wades into the pool, her body jerking and flexing like a sexualized puppet is trying to crawl out of her skin.
Not everything works though. In a film about female friendships, those female friendships aren’t very well defined. Deirdre for example is always more a caricature of social influencer vanity and artificiality than a real person. Heather doesn’t have much of a personality beyond worrying that the baby thing will make a mess of her dad’s house. Charlotte is a default horror movie protagonist without many other disntinguishing characteristics.
The film seems a lot more interested in lingering on images of the actor’s semi-nude bodies than in exploring who they are. The alien male gaze defines them from the beginning, rather than being something that creeps up on them and devours them. As a result, when the women have an inevitable falling out, and when they lose their personalities and turn into bodies, it has little emotional resonance or power. We’ve never known them, so watching them lose each other and themselves isn’t especially meaningful. That badly undermines the impact of the third act.
Director Walker also has difficulties with his plot. It’s not unusual for horror movies to fudge to keep their Final Girl alive. But even by those standards the baby monster’s powers wax and wane with irritating illogic. We establish early on that it has sweeping power to protect itself…and then for some reason it doesn’t protect itself? A horror movie should increase in terror towards the end, not leave you wondering why the big bad isn’t bigger and more bad.
Some of these problems at least feel like the result of constrained budgets and especially of a constrained 90-minute run time. Another half hour or so might have given Walker the chance to develop his characters and fill in the plot holes. The Seed doesn’t quite work. But you can see Walker coaxing some of its elements into a more satisfyingly monstrous growth given a little more time and care.
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