I have this compulsion to call Seed by Ania Ahlborn “cute”, which I think might come off as bitchy and insulting. I don’t mean it that way though. Seed is a riff on The Bad Seed, which has been iterated many times since its mid-century publication: stage, film, and even Macaulay Culkin vehicles designed to “show his range”. (Also, whoa, looks like Ian McEwan wrote the screenplay for The Good Son. Trippy.) Anyway, The Bad Seed is this slightly hysterical examination of the whole nature/nurture where-does-evil-come-from? question. A perfectly adorable Aryan moppet from a good family – good in this case having the usual class/racial overtones – turns out to be a conniving sociopath. Being a product of the 50s, there’s a lot of Freud talk and socially Darwinistic stuff about criminality which doesn’t read too good anymore.
But scary, creepy kids are a horror mainstay for good reason, which is that raising children is probably the scariest thing I can think of. If you don’t have kids of your own, then other people’s kids are just objectively creepy. (Sorry, other people’s children.) It’s all so confusing, and everyone is so judgmental, and there are days when you get that call from the school about an “incident” and just close your eyes and try to sound like a grown-up, but you know you’re just a fraud.
Jack Winter is driving his family home one evening when a swerve to avoid the flashing retinas of a creature on the road results in a car accident. Nobody is killed but the car, which for this slightly less than politely impoverished family is a pretty serious financial blow. The youngest daughter starts behaving strangely, and Jack begins to ruminate on his own childhood encounters with whatever sharp-toothed beastie hides in the grass and the walls of the house. There’s never really a question as to whether this is anything but supernatural in origin — this is Old Scratch, not new psychology.
Seed is very Murder Tonight in the Trailer Park Southern Gothic, with all the requisite touches: crumbling house, sins of the father, trailer homes, card reading, religious in-laws. I thought the family sketches were very nicely drawn, with a naturalistic sense of the mixed irritation/affection of the long married — how fights get shorthanded and truncated, each knowing what the other will say and then nodding at the wheel-spinning with something like understanding. I liked the kids, who felt — when they we’re being creepy and evil, of course — like actual kids, not the truth-speaking moppets who drive me mad in many supernatural tales. Hell, if you get right down to it, I even liked when the kids were evil, because I think most parents have at least the one moment when they look down on their child having a nuclear tantrum and think, this child is possessed by the devil. One of mine had a creepy relationship with an imaginary friend who seemed less than imaginary sometimes. (I have a portrait drawn of Ghosty, which is a blank spot on the paper. When I asked about this, the answer was, “Oh, you can’t see him, but he’s there.” Shudder.)
Jack is so strangely passive in the whole business, for reasons I found murky at best. On one level, I guess I dig it, in that it’s such an unbelievable bummer seeing my less-easy personality quirks visited upon the next generation — sorry about that introversion! and the social anxiety! — but on the other hand, seriously dude, you know what’s going on here, just say it out loud. At times it felt like his lack of affect was being treated as a supernatural quiet, like the hand of the devil was closing his throat, making him play out these scenes. When it wasn’t diablo-ex-machina — which I don’t exactly like, existentially speaking, but can accept in the confines of the story — Jack’s passivity just didn’t track for me.
But, I still want to call this cute. It may be that the cuteness I am feeling is the very old school nature of the plotting, which serves up a series of reveals and visitations with a stair-treading escalation that isn’t really surprising. I mean, there’s a pet dog: where’s that gonna go? I’m sure he’ll get lots of treats and go live on a farm somewhere. Which isn’t to say I’m bagging on this, and as a slender (one might almost say cute) piece of atmospheric horror, Seed treads the creaking Gothic stairs very competently. But given the straightforwardness of the plotting, I think this could almost be trimmed to deliver its gut-punches more quickly, like the truncated arguments between the parents. Everybody knows the dice are loaded, just roll them already.