Film Torments: Seed (2007)
RIGHT after the pint-sized ‘terror’ of Rumpelstiltskin, Torments continues Horror Month by finally taking a look at a man widely regarded as one of the worst directors to ever blight the silver screen. We are, of course, referring to Dr. Uwe Boll and Seed. Oh boy.
Can you believe we’ve been writing these Torments for over a year and this is the first Uwe Boll film we’ve covered? Not the gloriously awful Alone in the Dark; not the shockingly incompetent House of the Dead; not a solitary morsel of his gleefully terrible Bloodrayne trilogy; not even his $60 million folly In the Name of the King. No such matinee idols for moi, mon ami. No, Seed is Dr. Boll’s attempt to make an actual film, perhaps his first such attempt since 2001’s Heart of America, a surprisingly engaging examination of American school shootings.
The key word is ‘attempt’. While Seed is certainly more earnest and invested in its subject than his self-professedly money-driven videogame adaptations, it’s a stiff, dreary and needlessly dark 80 minutes or so that still manages to be boring. Left to his own devices and without a pre-existing narrative framework (as if that mattered), Boll creates a confusing, chronologically mismatched sequence of events that have no natural rhythm, languishing in shoddy characterisation and a lazily washed-out colour palette.
Set in 1979, Seed details the incarceration and summary execution of serial killer Max Seed (long-time Boll associate Will Sanderson), a hulking slab of flesh who has managed to kill (and I quote as I sigh) 666 people in six years. As the Comic Sans opening text crawl informs us, a convicted criminal who survives three jolts at the electric chair walks free; not willing to take the chance, Warden Arnold Calgrove (Ralf Möller) and Detective Matthew Bishop (Michael Paré) settle on burying Seed alive in the vague hope he’ll die that way.
No luck – Seed returns from not-death and goes after everyone who tried to kill him off, as well as around 50 other unrelated men, women and children. I’m still unsure whether Boll is trying to make a commentary on the failings of the American police force, or whether the police force within the film is grossly negligent and shockingly incompetent at its job. Probably the latter.
The editing is far too slipshod to give us a firm footing in the weaving of its narrative. Combined with an early focus on extreme close-up – presumably to capture every microbial imbalance on the actors’ blank, impassive faces – and a rather shady handheld camera, it’s initially quite difficult to tell what’s going on in Seed, especially when the lighting is so oppressively dark. It certainly fits the tone, but the lack of lighting in much of the film seems less about atmosphere and more about obfuscation; it’s confusing instead of unnerving.
This same problem renders Bishop’s dream sequence/flashback on a bus rather amusing, though much of that hilarity is down to Paré’s terrible delivery of lines like, “Don’t you knoiiww he’s a serreal keeler?!” What’s no doubt intended to be a chilling moment of malice is made hysterical by Paré’s modulating voice and Seed’s lackadaisical walk. Boll’s awkward, juddery editing doesn’t help, and neither do the vacant extras, all of whom look thoroughly baffled but not in the surreal, sleepwalking way that Boll intended. It’s less Jacob’s Ladder, more Naked Gun.
Paré, both in this sequence and everywhere else, seems to have watched Mark Wahlberg’s scrunched-up confusion in The Happening and sought to perfect it himself. His anguished “oh Goooddddddd” is side-splitting, and his general befuddlement at everything remains consistently amusing. Fortunately, the dialogue is incredibly sparse, with much of the characters’ thought processes indicated and conveyed through physical action and longer-than-average takes. When they do open their mouths, the magic is lost.
Seed himself, happily, never does. Looking like a taller, stockier Mankind, he’s a rather eerie killer who probably deserves a better vehicle. His backstory is mercifully brief, consisting solely of “he got burned in a bus fire as a kid and he’s really pissed off about it”, so his acts of random violence are made all the more chilling for it. One particular scene involves Seed tormenting a bound woman with a hammer. His blows are initially light, but gain in speed and force until her pained reactions are barely there.
The scene’s impact is unfortunately skewered by the addition of jarringly obvious CGI, and it’s a real shame; up to that point, the scene is exceptionally well-constructed and not just by Boll standards. It’s brutal and horrifying and it tells us more about Max Seed as a character/killer than any piece of errant dialogue or stock newspaper clipping can. Seed’s execution is also well-shot, being suitably grim without becoming self-parody. The well-timed blood spurts are gory without being extreme, and the angles are stark and unconventional.
There are other good points too. The 70s decor the characters’ homes is well-realised (quite unlike the modern electric lamps in the Western aesthetic of Bloodrayne 2) and it’s clear that Boll was trying to capture the grain and grit of 70s films. At one point, we even get the impression that Boll is trying to create his own version of David Fincher’s Seven, albeit with none of the hallmarks that made that film superb. It’s perhaps appropriate that Fincher’s own Zodiac was released around the same time as Seed; the latter’s dry aesthetic and serial killer focus chimes rather neatly with Zodiac.
The music is grandiose yet restrained, guided mostly by high piano notes and foreboding strings. Pretty standard for a horror, but it’s several notches above the embarrassing butt-metal from House of the Dead. The film isn’t so much badly lit as it is oppressively dark, making it a bit of a shitstick when we’re trying to gauge exactly what’s going on in any given scene. Despite this predilection for darkness, the more extreme scenes and many of the later killings are well-lit.
Extremity dictates only certain portions of Seed, but one of the stranger decisions is the splicing of real-life footage of animal cruelty (supplied by PETA), included by Boll and his team in order to “make a statement about humanity”. What that statement is I can’t say, but it’s more likely there to pad out the incredibly short runtime of 80 minutes.
For all of Dr. Boll’s failings – and, believe me, there are many – he remains a singularly fascinating figure within the film industry: he’s an unapologetic, belligerently dedicated auteur who actually challenged his critics to a boxing match (and beat them all). While he clearly cares more about Seed than his earlier work, it’s merely mediocre as opposed to hilariously awful.
The second half is a rushed mess that throws off the pacing and the killings are inserted rather randomly and wildly vary in length and purpose. Far from showing us the Stygian abyss of the human mind, Seed is pre-occupied with demonstrating that a big dude is really good at killing people. Will Sanderson is very convincing in this role, and his silence speaks volumes, but that’s the only real achievement.
He may lack the sincerity of Ed Wood, or the mind-numbing incompetence of Coleman Francis, but Boll is one of the “world’s worst directors” for a reason. Seed is among Boll’s arguments to the opposite, and even then it’s pretty dull. There’s nothing here that could bring people together in rapturous laughter a la Assault on Wall Street or Bloodrayne: The Third Reich. Seed is simply there, its positives present but frustratingly undeveloped. That might be the greatest crime of all.