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Unearth (2021): A Fracking Horror Story

Unearth tells the story of two feuding families in rural Pennsylvania. At first, a rustic drama but soon the story turns horrific when fracking unearths a quiet evil. Gabe talks about what not to do when making a fracking horror film (including disintegrating babies). Kat explains the horrors of real fracking, the biggest piece being how little we know about the process.

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Unearth (2021)

A fracking horror story, "Unearth" follows two neighboring farm families whose relationships are strained when one of them chooses to lease their land to an oil and gas company. In the midst of growing tension, the land is drilled, and something long dormant and terrifying, deep beneath the earth's surface is released.

Directed by: John C. Lyons, Dorota Swies


Two Small Pennsylvania Families Against Fracking in Unearth by Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

Synopsis Two households, both alike in dignity,

In fair Verona Pennsylvania, where we lay our scene,

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. [Shakespeare. Romeo Y Juliet]

This story follows two sad and feuding families in rural PA. Or what we Ghouls call, Pennsyltucky. These are two farming families that have hit truly rough times. They’ve lost loved ones and are struggling financially. When the promise of fortune, escape from the mundanity of farm life, and potential redo arrives on their doorstep by way of a natural gas company, Patriot (input name) it’s not hard to understand why this desperate family chose to sell out.

I saw a documentary about fracking when I was in college (so many years ago) and I remember the families featured in it. They were equally pressed and stressed for something new. It was only when their water turned a disgusting yellow and the checks arrived for their land with exceptionally fewer zeros that they had truly realized their mistake. The Dolans and the Lomacks experience a similar fate though theirs turns much more eco-horror and less sad documentary.

It takes quite a while to get into horror territory however, spending the bulk of the runtime as a drama. We have forbidden trysts, teenage mothers, repressed lesbians, and photographers that don’t want to inherit a farm job. So much of the film focuses on these two families and their sadness that you almost forget there’s the imminent threat of an ecological disaster and that this is a horror film. That is, until everyone starts drinking the disgusting, cloudy water and scratching itches that open skin, revealing growing mushrooms.

For a movie that is 80% not horror at all, it makes up for lost time in the last 20 minutes becoming a gory mess of chaos. Not all deaths are eco-based and it feels rather Shakespearean tragedy by the end. Once I saw there was a young child in this film, I knew nothing good would happen to him and I was right. Do not watch this film if you have a weak stomach! All I’ll say is maybe you see a baby crumble into guts and viscera like instantly and abruptly?


The subgenre of eco-horror is so fascinating to me because it can hold so much within it. It can tackle our insignificance in the world, that the Earth will live on with or without us. It highlights the terrible ways we as a people are affecting nature and wildlife in our pursuit for advancement. And it highlights the absolutely disgusting power that some people and institutions hold over not only the everyday people but the say of the entire world. The crux of that being these companies do not see people as humans but rather a number, an obstacle, a slight hurdle to overcome in pursuit of a greater margin.

I think this film, while certainly painting the company, Patriot Whatever, as being unreliable, greedy, and bad, didn’t exactly drive home the message of them being evil, which is what they are. Instead, we have the intimate story of how two families are affected by this ecological disaster. We get the same issues of contaminated water and less payout than promised (due to absurd bills) that happen in real life and then we get the horror.

When I first told folx we were covering a fracking horror film, most people jumped to the idea that the drilling awakens a slumbering beast underground. That’s not quite what happens here, though I do argue that all fungi are slumbering beasts, instead they are infected. Similar to what we saw in The Bay, the illness is a result of something entering our systems that shouldn’t, specifically a living something that shouldn’t enter our system.

Unlike The Bay, this film spends more time focused on the innocent victims than on the big companies at fault. These two families are betrayed and gutted because of their need to survive. But there’s also this understanding that even their “right” to the land is a problem. Is this film telling us not to trust big gas or is it telling us we have no business doing any of this? In an article on Grimoire of Horror, Unearth 2021 Film Review- Fracking Despair, writer Alice Oscura dives into this thesis that this is no accident but rather, the Earth fighting back.

In this story, the land represents a supernatural force that proceeds to punish both families for their acts of betrayal. Metaphorically speaking, the land did not belong to the Dolans or the Lomacks. The land allowed them to reap the benefits of what was sown once they were willing to keep passing down the responsibility to their heirs. Whether it was Mother Nature or some other entity, it took its revenge for the slight in a visceral manner.

Though, I wouldn’t go as far as painting these farming families as villains. The film really wants you to know just how desperate these families are. To see their longstanding love, appreciation, and reliance on the land. But how could they compete with Big Farming industries that are filling their livestock and plants with chemicals for rapid growth to fulfill a need born from the myth of scarcity?

Yes, it’s true that humans are harming the earth, altering it by our ceaseless greed. But its not the individual family’s fault, (though, either of these families would be the first to cast blame - kettle, meet pot?). The true villain in this story is the villain in nearly every Ghouls-worthy story - Capitalism. You as a human can do your part to reduce your carbon footprint and prolong the life of our planet or rather this version of the planet that can house us. But the only real way to change the fate of our home planet is for big companies and greedy, disgusting capitalists to get their grubby hands off our natural resources, which are dwindling!

Married director team Swies and Lyon expressed their motivations and what they think the moral is in interviews saying, ‘Greed and ignorance have already destroyed our water supplies with chemicals, biological or radiological waste.’ and ‘No one is safe from the wrecking ball that is corporate greed.’

There’s parts of this film that fall short with this messaging. Yes, the Patriot company is bad but is it evil? No. The film spends so much time trying to convince viewers that it is not the fault of these farmers that it never really takes a strong stance on the real villain. Ghouls are always disappointed when films pull their punches and this one certainly does. The question I have is why did they feel the need to exonerate these families from blame? Do people honestly think its the everyday American's fault for this? Well, if you do then I hope this film changes your mind.

In the end, this film wants to gruesomely reveal a sad truth. The victims of fracking and other natural resources are always going to be the everyday people who have to settle for this promise of a better future. Sure, Fracking most likely won’t lead to unearthing predatory fungi that eat us from the inside out, warp our realities, and result in us murdering each other over the span of one night in rage and anguish – but it can kill us in other ways. It is certainly altering our world in ways that even now we can’t truly understand - probably not until it’s too late to undo.


The Terrifying Instability and Uncertainty with Fracking by Kat Kushin

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

After watching Unearth, I think they tried to make a film about the horrors of fracking, and I guess it sorta did that at the beginning. Once you got about halfway through it kind of seemed like it forgot that fact, in that the ending literally had no indication of what happened to the fracking that murdered all those people, and our main character just decides to be a farmer now? Cause everythings fine I guess? Even if the film was kinda bad though, what I’m here to talk about is fracking.

So what is all the fuss about? Let’s start by defining fracking. In an article from BBC News, titled What is fracking and why is it controversial? It defines fracking as, “the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well. The process can be carried out vertically or, more commonly, by drilling horizontally to the rock layer, which can create new pathways to release gas or used to extend existing channels.The term fracking refers to how the rock is fractured apart by the high-pressure mixture.” Fracking and its methods are claimed to not be inherently damaging in it’s process, and I think the most important way to look at these things is not just viewing if it directly harms us, but if it harms animals and ecosystems, as well as the planet as a whole. A problem we keep interacting with is the classification of something as “dangerous” only if it impacts us specifically, and not if it impacts other factors. Not factoring in how things impact biodiversity, and local plant and animal life. An additional piece of this is recognizing that hydraulic fracking is another method of pulling fossil fuels, which is not the route that should be taken by a government that “claims” to care about the environment. The use of fossil fuels is inherently damaging to the environment which is something we already know, in that it’s not sustainable and causes air pollution and other issues. So the arguments for fracking with that in mind is essentially a moot point, and fracking immediately can be seen as negatively impactful.

Let's unpack the environmental impact more. While human water systems are unlikely to be affected by fracking, water for animals and plant life are. A very frustrating piece of data collection for tracking the true impact of fracking is that because of non-disclosure agreements, there is so much we don’t have access to. The signing of non-disclosure agreements, and lack of transparency from companies on what exactly is in the chemicals used in hydraulic fracking make it especially difficult to get conclusive evidence on fracking impact. This feels very intentional, if you’re thinking critically about who benefits most from hydraulic fracking. There are studies conducted by Cornell that suggest that the interaction between wildlife and fracking chemicals resulted in many animal deaths. The article titled Study suggests hydrofracking is killing farm animals, pets by Krishna Ramanujan outlines exactly how many animals were impacted in their specific study. This study is also referenced in another article that I read on One Green Planet. A new report has found dozens of cases of illness, death and reproductive issues in cows, horses, goats, llamas, chickens, dogs, cats, fish and other wildlife, and humans…According to the study.. in New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, making a direct link between death and illness is not possible due to incomplete testing, proprietary secrecy from gas drilling companies regarding the chemicals used in hydrofracking, and non-disclosure agreements that seal testimony and evidence when lawsuits are settled.” The data because of this makes it nearly impossible to explicitly state that fracking was the cause, but the implication is there. The study goes on to reference that “In Louisiana, 17 cows died within an hour of direct exposure to hydraulic fracturing fluid. A necropsy report listed respiratory failure with circulatory collapse as the most likely cause of death.”

In another instance “A farmer separated his herd of cows into two groups: 60 were in a pasture with a creek where hydrofracking wastewater was allegedly dumped; 36 were in separate fields without creek access. Of the 60 cows exposed to the creek water, 21 died and 16 failed to produce calves the following spring. None of the 36 cows in separated fields had health problems, though one cow failed to breed in the spring.” The data gets even more upsetting as “

Another farmer reported that 140 of his cows were exposed to hydrofracking fluid when wastewater impoundment was allegedly slit, and the fluid drained into a pasture and a pond. Of the 140 cows, about 70 died, and there were high incidences of stillborn and stunted calves.”

Whether we know what is in fracking chemicals or not, it seems the result is somewhat clear. When fracking chemicals are introduced into water systems, those chemicals cause deaths, health problems, and other issues. What was very frustrating about this is the manipulation of the data points, specifically in not allowing transparency for what is in the fracking chemicals. Nondisclosure agreements should not be allowed when public health is at stake, and shouldn’t be necessary if these chemicals “aren’t dangerous”. This also extends to the potential impact on humans, since that seems to be the main focus of many of these studies. It’s noted in the paper that animals exposed to chemicals were not tested prior to slaughter, and the possible implications of how that could impact meat and dairy products. Ultimately the real damage can’t be measured if there isn’t transparency for what is being put into the fracking fluid itself.

There are also other ways in which fracking can damage the local ecosystems. There are many things that influence this, both in terms of noise pollution, potential water contamination, general pollution from improper waste disposal, as well as risks associated with the drilling itself, and how it influences potential earth tremors. What seems to be the most concerning part of fracking is the damage it could do without the proper regulations, and the bandaid it places on our current fossil fuel problem and thus the negative contributions to climate change.

While there are countless claims that fracking isn’t dangerous or damaging if done correctly, the potential damages through carelessness or unethical labor practices could and likely will lead to contamination of water systems. The information surrounding fracking seems to hinge on the success of hydraulic drilling, and that if done correctly there is no risk to these environments or the people who live there. However, the risks associated with the mistakes that can happen on sight are dangerous for the environment. On a bad day, mistakes in fracking could contaminate the water supplies for local wells. The process also doesn’t take into account the disastrous infrastructure of our country. The assumption going in is that the other necessary protections are in place. That the wells in local communities are made well, that the cement is solid and without cracks, that there are structures that prevent problems. This unfortunately just isn’t the case, and can be seen when looking at the case of Dimlock PA.

There is a somewhat murky case surrounding a fracking incident in Dimlock PA. In an article titled, Dimock, PA: "Ground Zero" In The Fight Over Fracking there is a well documented incident that Cabot Oil and Gas decided to foot the bill on. The article states that “right around the time Cabot Oil and Gas began drilling natural gas wells in the community, several residents began experiencing severe problems with their water supplies. The most high-profile event happened on January 1, 2009, when Norma Fiorentino’s back yard water well blew up.

The Cabot Oil and Gas company accepted the charges associated with this, although it seems that they didn’t directly cause the issue, and that it was actually infrastructure problems that compounded with fracking to cause the explosion. There is also some uncertainty surrounding if fracking actually had anything to do with it, but either way Cabot Oil and Gas did accept the charges laid out against them. In another article titled Is Fracking a threat to water supplies? By Robert Rapier, they provide a bit more context. “There was a very well-documented case of an improperly cemented well contaminating water in Dimock, Pennsylvania. In 2010, gas driller Cabot Oil & Gas COG -3.5% (NYSE: COG) was cited by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for contaminating water wells with its Marcellus Shale drilling operations. Last year, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced 15 criminal counts against Cabot, including nine felonies, upon the recommendation of a grand jury. The company was charged with violating the state’s Clean Streams law.” While it was later explained that the cause was improperly cemented gas wells that caused the explosion, there is a lot of controversy around this case.

Ultimately though, Fracking shouldn’t even be happening because we should be venturing into more sustainable fuel sources. Instead of trying to lower gas prices, we should be replacing and removing the need for gas. A task that’s pretty challenging when the Fossil fuel industry has the largest delegation at the COP26 climate summit. Fossil fuels are something that America has doubled down on (I wonder why) so it’s frustrating to say the least, and we’ll get into this further in our episode on Don’t look up. Please Please Please check out our ways to help section for these episodes. There are things you can do to support the people who are doing the work on the ground. I go more in depth on this in our Don’t Look Up episode and hopefully we’ll continue to talk about these things. A shout out for Fridays for Future, and that on March 25th there will be a Global Climate strike taking place calling for action to be made to fight climate change and injustice. They have a lot of information on their website that I recommend checking out. Don’t be passive in this, as we are running out of time.


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