With After Dark Original’s latest offering, Fertile Ground, I may well have witnessed birth of an entirely new and wholly unnecessary sub-genre of cinematic terror – the hipster horror film. From its characters and cast to its pretentious title cards and lounge-piano score, Fertile Ground plays out like something dreamt up over soy macchiatos on the terrace of a trendy café in Greenwich Village. As I watched, I could practically feel my Forzieri scarf fluttering behind me as I zipped past the MOMA on my vintage ten speed shouting out lyrics to Death Cab for Cutie songs.
Cute-as-a-button Leisha Hailey (The L-Word and singer of the early 90's indie pop duo, The Murmurs) and I-always-thought-he-was-gay-in-real-life-but-apparently-isn't Gale Harold (Queer as Folk/Deadwood) star as Emily and Nate Weaver; two wealthy artsy-types (Nate’s a bad painter and Emily designs clothes that look like maternity dresses lifted from a Micronesian thrift store) who are expecting their first child. During a dinner party in their ridiculously large Manhattan apartment, where a collection of trust fund babies discuss the finer points of veganism and sip Château Fonroque, Emily suffers a miscarriage, and later learns that she’s no longer able to conceive a child (thus negating the need for an expensive cloth diaper service). After another title card written in a handwritten font more suited to a “Honey-Do” list rather than a horror film, we see The Weavers settling in to some new country digs, far away from the bustle of big city livin’. The house, which has been in Nate’s family for generations, is big, beautiful, isolated, and, of course, haunted.
The first clue we get is a stubborn handprint that appears on a loose second floor window - a window we later find out was the same one a teacher fell out of back in the 1960’s, when the Weaver home served as a school. Soon after we see the handprint, the house’s plumbing goes awry, and, when a team of plumbers using underground camera equipment arrive to see how the pipes look, they discover a skull. Shortly after the grisly find, Emily begins to experience strange happenings (which we’re helpfully informed of with a title card reading “Strange Happenings”), including lots of stuff moving around in the background and falling off of walls, all punctuated by blaring orchestra stabs. She starts to see the specters of past inhabitants, including Nate’s ancestors (one of which is played by Harold in a fright wig and sideburns to unintentionally hilarious effect), whom she identifies after digging through a trunk filled with their belongings in the basement (yes, despite all of the different inhabitants the house has seen over the past 150 years, somehow we're to believe that much of Nate's ancestestral heritage still resides in an antique trunk in the basement).
With the help of a local historian, Avery (Chelcie Ross), Emily learns that her new home has served as host to several violent and mysterious incidents over the years - all involving women. Matters are further complicated when Emily, despite her previous doctor’s assertions, learns that she is pregnant; news that Nate doesn’t seem very excited to hear. As Emily’s pregnancy advances, Nate grows increasingly distant and secretive, spending much of his time either back in the city preparing for an upcoming show, or cloistered in his studio painting. It’s not long before her once kind and attentive husband becomes an entirely different person altogether as the house’s violent history seems doomed to repeat itself.
While watching Fertile Ground, I wondered aloud if anyone involved in the production had actually ever even seen a horror film prior to making this one, and was shocked to discover that the film’s director, Adam Gierasch, and co-writer, Jace Anderson, had co-scripted not only the excellent Tobe Hooper remake of The Toolbox Murders and Dario Argento’s underappreciated The Mother of Tears, but that Gierasch had also directed the silly-yet-entertaining gorefest, Autopsy – one of the featured titles in last year’s After Dark lineup. How these two obviously talented individuals came up with a film so creatively bankrupt is beyond me, but, here it is, in all of its monotonous glory. It’s a shame as Hailey and Harold turn in solid performances, and the film, itself, is quite the polished affair – perhaps one of the most professional looking offerings from After Dark Films yet. Sadly, the good performances and above average production values are bogged down by a slow-as-molasses, cliché ridden story, lame scares, and an absolute howler of a dénouement.
Fertile Ground comes to DVD courtesy of Lionsgate, who present the film in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, with a well-balanced transfer that really compliments cinematographer, Yaron Levy’s, lush photography. Colors are rich and vibrant while skintones are generally pleasing, although I did notice an occasional case of orange face, most evident in the scene in which Emily visits Avery’s office. The film’s 5.1 Dolby DTS soundtrack is well-mixed, albeit a little on the loud side, with crisp and clear dialogue, and aggressive bass.
In terms of extras, we get a somewhat unenthusiastic commentary from Gierasch, Anderson, and Hailey, as well as storyboards and a promo for After Dark Originals.
Fertile Ground is dull, predictable, and almost entirely devoid of anything resembling scares. While it’s a competently acted and reasonably well-made film, Gierasch and Anderon’s screenplay brings nothing new to the table, instead borrowing bits from the dozens of other films that have done this sort of thing much better. Lionsgate’s DVD presentation is solid, but the few extras don’t add much in terms of value as not even the people who created the film seem all that excited by it. If you’re in the market for one of the After Dark Originals titles, skip this one and pick up the surprisingly good Prowl or Husk, instead.