Fertile Ground, 2010.
Directed by Adam Gierasch.
Starring Gale Harold, Leisha Hailey and Chelcie Ross.
A couple that has recently experienced a miscarriage move into an isolated house with a dark history.
‘Fertile Ground’ sounds like it should be a romantic comedy, probably starring Jennifer Aniston as a clumsy, single gardener. From there you can go two ways: the Adam Sandler route where they join forces to win the local ‘hedge trimming championship’; or cast Channing Tatum as an expert, but unhappily engaged, gardener who teaches Aniston the wonders of nature. The film writes itself.
Or it could go in the ‘haunted house’ direction. Emily (Leisha Hailey) and Nate Weaver (Gale Harold) are a loving couple who experience a (very bloody) miscarriage in the film’s opening scene. It comes from nowhere, during a dinner party celebrating the pregnancy, and is effectively shocking. Afterwards, they both decide to move out of the city and into Nate’s “great-great-great-great…he was old” uncle’s house to help Emily recover. That’s the haunted one, by the way.
It’s a good, creepy house. The exterior is a cold white and the barren road stretches off emptily into both horizons. The rooms inside are large, the windows are rickety and it has a basement. But then why is the house itself never scary? Why must the film rely on ghostly apparitions jumping into shot for its frights? It isn’t the house’s fault.
Over-exposure. Horror is most effective when it is unseen or unknowable, but here, at night, everything is visible in the moon’s cool blue half-light. Not only does it destroy the mystique, but it also draws unwanted attention to the background. The lighting’s focus should be on Emily’s terrified face, yet distracting objects litter the view behind her.
You have to be brave to embrace the darkness. It’s more expressionistic, and therefore not as safe. Unfortunately, Fertile Ground’s makers are adverse to such risks, and thus the film’s appearance looks more suited for daytime television.
The generic music and dissolve transitions between scenes only accentuate this impression. The film is also inexplicably, and uselessly, separated into sections by title-cards in the most annoying “scribbled-on-a-blackboard” font: “Starting Over”, “Moving In”, “New Life”, “Old Secrets”, “Strange Happening”, “The Gathering”, “Revelations” – at best these are insufferably cheesy, at worst they are patronising to the viewer.
[Back to the plot]
The two start to uncover dark “Old Secrets” about the house. They find a 150-year-old skull in the front garden (it was interfering with the plumbing) and a trip to the local historian reveals that many a (female) murder have occurred within their walls. It’s probably ok though, consoles the historian, the last death was in the 60s.
This starts to send Emily a bit barmy, tapping into her already fragile, post-miscarriage psyche. Nate, too, becomes angrier and obsessive. Their relationship deteriorates as Emily begins to see more and more strange occurrences; the door is oddly ajar, a bloodstained woman passes through the corridor, her nightmares intensify. All the usual things you’d expect of a haunted house film, and just as formulaic as the most boring within the sub-genre.