This is a potentially fun but ultimately frustrating attempt to craft a low-budget monster movie. Things get off to a good start with a moody credits sequence set in a cave, with some kind of electronic sensor displaying the outline of a long-dormant creature re-awakening. Out on a lonely highway, a trucker is startled by the appearance of the beast, and his eighteen wheeler ends up splashed across the asphalt, blocking the only major road in or out of an isolated Indian reservation; not only that, the truck was on its way to deliver gasoline to the local station, which runs dry without the new supply. It’s a perfect “fish-in-a-barrel” set up: with no gas and no road out of town, a handful of characters – some locals, some just passing through – are forced to stand and face off with the monster.
Unfortunately, it is all downhill from there. Once it has the characters in the situation, the muddled script barely knows what to do with them (except kill them off one by one). After the monster attacks start, the action consists mostly of panicked running around, with little or no strategy, and the film barely bothers to keep track of who is where or what has happened to them. Cars fail, forcing potential victims to get out and walk in the dark – a tired cliche used at least twice here.
Eventually, a gang of survivors seeks help from Kale (Luke Goss), one of those convenient movie characters who knows all about the monster and what needs to be done. For reasons never made clear, Kale is a nut-job who seems more likely to kill his fellow humans, even though he claims to be dedicated to eradicating the monster (which he blames for the extinction of his Anasazi ancestors). This pointless sub-conflict drags the storyline off on a tangent when it should be rushing straight ahead to the climax.
The exposition during these scenes is laughable. Using nothing but a microscope and some cave paintings, a young Indian botanist (Tonantzin Carmelo) figures out that the monster is an alien sent to Earth to retrieve DNA samples – and she whips up a poison that will kill it (it goes without saying that bullets are useless).
The cast is not bad, but they are given little to work with. The film avoids many of the tired cliches: the women aren’t sluts, and the characters usually do not act like idiots who deserve to die. Unfortunately, there is little to fill the void, so we barely get to know who any of these people are. We are told that Sheriff Annie (Emmanuelle Vaugier) is a guilt-ridden alcoholic since she was responsible for the death of a child, but the details of what happened are hopelessly vague, and they barely intersect with the actual plot. In any case, Vaugier looks to young to have been entrusted with the position of sheriff, and she looks too beautiful and healthy to be suffering from the effects of alcoholism. (One characters says he has seen tell-tale tremors in her hands, but the camera never shows them to the audience.
The few times the script seems to be making a point, the ideas are promptly forgotten (perhaps left on the editing room floor). Hank (Charles Murphy, Eddie’s brother) makes a big deal of the important cargo he is transporting in his Corvette; he even goes to the trouble of finding a safe place to store it when he learns he will be stuck for the night. Like the proverbial gun loaded in the first act, you expect something payoff, but it never comes; the object and its purpose remains a total mystery.
The same might be said for the alien itself. We see that it implants tiny organisms into the bodies of its victims, but their purpose is never explained. Presumably, they are extracting human DNA, but why would more than one sample be needed, and why does the extraction process have to be fatal? For that matter, the script never gets around to explaining why the alien lived in peace, worshipped as a god, for many years with the Anasazi, before turning lethal. To top it all off, in the final reel, the upright creature (which bears a passing resemblance to the titular star of ALIEN), is shown to have a small crab-like cohort. Parasite? Sibling? Off-spring? take your pick; the film does not bother to tell.
The monster itself is rendered with some unconvincing computer-generated imagery, which often looks like rough test footage; the stroboscopic motion at times even suggests badly done stop-motion. To its credit, the effects shots are brief, using darkness and shadows to hide the shortcomings, but the effects is more frustrating than frightening. Although the design seems derivative of H. R. Giger, the glimpses we see do look interesting, and it would be nice to get a better look at the monster.
The best thing about UNEARTHED is its use of desert locations. There are some nice atmospheric shots of the desert at night – black hills silhouetted against dimming traces of light in the sky – that perfectly set the scene for a simple, enjoyable monster movie. Sadly, the cinematography takes the use of darkness too far, and we end up seeing little if any of the horror.
The director compliments the muddled lighting with shaky camera work and rapid-fire editing that make most of the action scenes completely incomprehensible. You almost wind up feeling that there might be a watchable monster movie taking place, if the camera would just settle down long enough to let you watch it.
Steve Johnson’s Edge FX, Inc. is credited with creature effects fabrication and animatronics, but most of the monster scenes seem to have been created with CGI. Considering that UNEARTHED aims to be an old-fashioned monster movie, it is curious that the film does not emphazie the old-fashioned on-set effects.
UNEARTHED is one of the so-called “8 Films to Die For” that screened as part of the 2007 After Dark Horrorfest. Other films included BORDERLAND, CRAZY EIGHTS, THE DEATHS OF IAN STONE, LAKE DEAD, MULBERRY STREET, NIGHTMARE MAN, and TOOTH AND NAIL.
UNEARTHED (2007). Written and directed by Matthew Leutwyler. Cast: Emmanuelle Vaugier, Luke Goss, Beau Garrett, Charles Q. Murphy, Tonantzin Carmelo, Whitney Able, Tommy Dewey, M. C. Gainey, Russell Means, Miranda Baily.