Owen Long’s debut feature is a gothic horror tale involving murder, psychological unraveling, giant insects and themes of pedophilia and incest. You’d think, therefore, that the least likely thing it would be is dull. Somehow, the film manages to defy those expectations, delivering its creepy tale with all the excitement of watching a plant grow. Although stylishly made and featuring a compelling lead performance by Trevor Long (Netflix’s Ozark), Seeds never takes root.
After an intriguing prologue involving the murder of a scantily clad young woman wearing butterfly wings, the main story begins with the arrival of said murderer, Marcus (Long), at his family’s palatial New England beachside estate. He’s hoping for solitude, but must change his plans when his brother (Chris McGarry) arrives unexpectedly and asks Marcus to care for his teenage daughter, Lily (Andrea Chen), and her younger brother, Spencer (Garr Long), while he works out marital issues.
This sets the scene for slowly simmering erotic tensions between the pill-popping, clearly troubled Marcus and his nubile young niece, who seems determined to seduce him. That’s about it for the plot, with the film devolving into repetitive scenes involving Marcus’ disturbing interactions, some real and some imagined, with Lily. Meanwhile, his psychological deterioration is mirrored by physical manifestations of a giant spider, which at one point wraps its legs around Lily, and a tentacled creature that seems to be growing. The latter is foreshadowed in an early scene on the beach, where Lily picks up a seashell that contains a tiny animal that quickly withdraws its tentacles.
Toward the end of the story, Marcus partially transforms, Metamorphosis-style, into some sort of insect himself, perhaps a praying mantis like the ones that his young nephew keeps in a jar. It’s but one of many ideas the film touches on but never satisfactorily develops, as if screenwriter Steven Weisman (working from a story by director Long) had sketched out an outline but never bothered to fill in the blanks.
To compensate for the narrative diffuseness, the filmmaker employs various stylistic devices including hallucinatory visuals, off-kilter editing and jarring musical cues to keep the viewer disoriented. It all works up to a point, but the pacing is so glacial that the film borders on inertness.
Metaphors abound, including the house being afflicted with bad electrical wiring that correlates with the lead character’s faulty mental processes. Needless to say, it’s not at all surprising when an elderly supporting character goes into the basement to check it out and meets an untimely end.
The film certainly doesn’t shy away from its provocative themes, offering many images of the scantily clad or nude Lily. The prurience would perhaps be forgivable if the disturbing nature of the relationship had been explored in more depth, but instead it mainly comes across as exploitative.
Chen is certainly sultry as the young seductress, but she also displays a blankness that’s even more pronounced than the basic vagueness of her character. Lead actor Long (the filmmaker’s brother) is far more effective at conveying Marcus’ emotional disintegration, but his intense efforts are ultimately undone by the unintentional silliness of the material.
Production: Barnofo, Ambrosino/Delmonico
Distributor: Uncork’d Entertainment, Dark Star Pictures
Cast: Trever Long, Andrea Chen, Garr Long, Kevin Breznahan, Chris McGarry
Director: Owen Long
Screenwriter: Steven Weisman
Producers: Anthony Ambrosino, Owen Long, Younny Long
Executive producer: Younny Long
Director of photography: Eun-ah Lee
Production designer: Kevin C. Lang
Costume designer: Deborah Newhall
Editor: Ron Len
Composers: Erick Del Aguila, Ron Len
Casting: John Barba, Lisa Fields