"Unearthed" is one of the best-looking films I have ever struggled to stay awake through. The on-location footage shot in the deserts surrounding Salt Lake City Utah is breathtaking. Cinematographer Ross Richardson does a fantastic job with "Unearthed" in almost every shot; it's just a shame he didn't frame these shots for a better film. Although the real shame would be if 20th Century Fox didn't sue writer/director Matthew Leutwyler for using H. R. Geiger's "Alien" creature in his film without their permission.
"Unearthed" stars the stunning Emmanuelle Vaugier as Sheriff Annie Flynn, a stereotypical cop on the edge. This plot device has been overused for decades now, and Leutwyler's thoughtless script doesn't add anything to the dull character. The Sheriff spends half the film trying to drink herself to death, and the other half living through cheesy flashbacks of a mistake she made that killed a child. She's about to get fired from her job as Sheriff of a small town, and she couldn't care less. But Sheriff Flynn gets a new lease on life and her job when a mysterious creature begins killing cattle and quickly makes its way up the food chain to humans. But can the town's biggest drunk sober up to even shoot straight, let alone destroy a creature that's survived for almost a thousand years?
All but two of the eight films included in this year's After Dark Horrorfest are cliché-ridden wastes of time, filled with stereotypical, paper-thin characters dying boring uninventive deaths. Surprise! "Unearthed" is one of these six losers, with only its impressive visuals and the visually impressive Vaugier keeping the film alive. The Sheriff Flynn character is a complete waste of Emmanuelle Vaugier's talents. I've seen episodes of "She's the Sheriff" that had more thought invested in them. Which is sad because she's both the best and the worst part of "Unearthed." When the Sheriff character isn't being ham-fistedly directed to feel sorry for herself, she kicks some ass and propels the slow-moving film forward. But then Leutwyler gets his thick, greasy fingers all over the shot and slows the film back down to its native plodding place.
Vaugier has great screen presence; it's surprising that she hasn't become more exposed as a "Scream Queen" the way other lesser actress have. She's appeared in a ton of horror sequels including "Saw 2," "Wishmaster 3," and "House of the Dead 2," and genre-based TV shows like "The Outer Limits," "Supernatural," and "Masters of Horror." Perhaps she maintains a low profile in horror fandom by balancing out her gore-soaked parts with appearances in more mainstream fare, with recurring roles on TV shows like "One Tree Hill" and "Two and a Half Men."
Given the fact that "Unearthed" is a creature movie, one would hope that the monster was well thought out, with an innovative design and an intriguing back story. Instead, all Leutwyler offers viewers is a complete rip-off of the extremely familiar creature from Ridley Scott's genre-defining "Alien." If it's true that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then the folks at Steve Johnson's Edge FX must be in love with H.R. Geiger. From the exhaust-pipe protrusions in its back to a tiny creature reminiscent of the egg-hatched "facehugger," there is nothing original about the Indian spirit/alien creature thing in "Unearthed." The damn beast even moves like the original "Alien," except Ridley Scott's creature wasn't made out of hilariously bad CGI effects. "Unearthed" spends a lot of time baiting the audience with quick glimpses of the creature, but towards the end of the film when you finally get a good look at the monster, one wishes it would step back into the darkness.
The widescreen presentation, featuring a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, does a wonderful job displaying the film's best asset--its wonderful shooting locations. "Unearthed" is an attractive film, but its beauty is only skin deep, and it has a core filled with festering racial stereotypes and lame creature effects.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track sounds fine, but it can't touch the powerful visuals.
Just like the other eight films in the After Dark Horrorfest released to DVD, "Unearthed" has the stupid "Miss Horrorfest webisodes." It's a special feature that's so special the exact same nineteen minutes are included on all eight discs.
"Unearthed" is a film overflowing with missed opportunities. If Leutwyler had spent a little more time and effort fleshing out his script and finding an effects team capable of creating a more original monster, then it would have been a far better film. Instead, we get shady, loudmouthed African-Americans; small-minded, distrustful white townsfolk; and mystical Native Americans all running around attempting to out-stereotype each other. I saw this film in the theater over a year ago, at a film festival that ran it before it was announced as part of the After Dark Horrorfest lineup. I happily slept through half of that screening, but I did my damndest to stay awake through this viewing. It was a better film the first time around.
For a more entertaining flick featuring irrational, small-minded white people fighting a poorly designed alien, check out 2006's "Altered." Here, there's a group of hicks that were tortured and experimented upon by aliens as kids, who capture one of the bastards on a return visit. Directed by "The Blair Witch Project" co-creator Eduardo Sanchez, "Altered" is a thrilling, atmosphere-driven creep-fest that takes a slight nosedive once the alien-costumed midget is fully shown. But even after that less-than-stellar revelation occurs, it's still twice the film "Unearthed" fails to be.