The haunted house sub-genre of horror is one that hit its peak early on, with 1963’s The Haunting, a fantastic, atmospheric film (Honorary mention go to The Innocents). They also knew how to write tag-lines back then: “You may not believe in ghosts but you can’t deny terror” – awesome. Compare this to the tag-line for 2010’s Fertile Ground – “From Cradle To Grave” – not so awesome. Much like the film itself. In fact, if you’ve seen The Amityville Horror or Rosemary’s Baby, or indeed, any haunted house film probably up to and including Eddie Murphy’s The Haunted Mansion (I couldn’t say 100% as I’ve never seen it) you’ve basically seen Fertile Ground. But hell, I’ve watched it now, and I’ve made all these notes so let’s bash through it anyway. Spoilers follow.
Well, Which One Would You Rather Watch?
(Hint, If The Answer Was Anything Other Than The Haunting We Are No Longer Friends)
Topless pregnant woman alert at 2 seconds in, the teenage boy market these films aim for are going to be confused with that, especially with vaguely sinister nursery rhyme music chirping in the background, that’s not conductive to masturbation. She also decides against wearing a bra – and she looks like she could use the support. What would Gok Wan say? (probably give her a bra then top the whole outfit off with a hug and a waist-cinching belt).
She is indeed pregnant, a high risk one as well, so her sensitive cares about her sexual needs artist husband Nate is not allowed to pleasure her, and he has to make a salad for an impending dinner party, so for hygiene reasons it’s probably for the best. Guests for the dinner party arrive, including the wife’s best friend Brittany and a bitchy blonde woman, Risa, the husband’s art dealer. You can tell she’s a bitch because she’s dressed all in black and glowers at Emily, the mother to be. And because she has a stupid fucking name. The dinner party is soon in full swing, and seems to be populated by artsy bohemian type folk who I truly can’t stand. It reminds me of the dinner scene in High Fidelity, where John Cusack’s Rob goes to a dinner party given by his ex-girlfriend and has a miserable time, hating everybody. That would be me that this dinner party. Things take a turn for the worse when Emily excuses herself to go and throw up, but a worser turn is to come when she suffers a miscarriage, and is left unable to have more children…I think, one muttered line in the hospital – ‘The scarring, I won’t be able to…’ seems to imply this.
Any Quippy Little Aside I Make Here Is Going To Make Me Look Extremely Crass.
Normal Service Will Be Resumed With The Next Picture
Oh, a title card – hello. ‘Starting Over’ – Looks like a new house is on the cards for the couple. Emily stated at the dinner party she was a dress designer, and I don’t wish to speak ill of someone who has just suffered a tragic event, but if she designed the dress she’s wearing in this scene, maybe she should reconsider her career goals. It’s Shelly Long in The Shining crossed with Margot Kidder in the 1970s Amityville Horror. Which is handy as this film is totally derivative of those two.
The house was built in 1813 and has belonged to Nate’s family for generations. The house is large, beautiful and so very isolated. The estate agent doesn’t even want to go inside, which is not a good sign. Emily finds an antique crib and has a sad moment, the crib is the only thing in the house that is dusty and covered in spider-webs, and everything else is sparkling clean. There are also several lingering shots on a shed outside, which is bound to be important.
I Can Spot About Five Different Famous Haunted Houses Meshed Together.
They decide to stay despite the place clearly being jam packed with ghosts and we are to the next title card – ‘Moving In’. Removal men bustle about while Emily directs operations. Nate is setting up his art studio in the old shed, which weirdly has an intercom to the bedroom. I’m sure this will be used to great effect later but still just seems disjointed. Bless, Nate is so excited about the country life, no wonder no one had the heart to tell him the place is CLEARLY haunted and that he’s been cast in the role of George Lutz.
First sign of the paranormal – a handprint on the window in the room where Emily has set up her dress making space. This is clearly CGI, how hard would it really be to get a crew member to place his hand on the window for cripes sake? Emily cleans the print off and notices the glass is loose, foreshadowing ahoy! The handprint reappears on the window but Emily doesn’t see as she’s got far creepier things than a daft old handprint to see; off to the basement we go. Within two steps she hears a crying baby. On further investigation, and as opposed to high tailing it out of there as soon as she hears the phantom brat, she finds a creepy old trunk, full of creepy old baby things, including a creepy old doll. Christ, why is there always a doll? I fucking hate those things. Cue Nate jump scare as she closes the trunk lid.
Holy Shit! This Isn’t From Fertile Ground, But Isn’t It Fucking Spine Chilling?
They bring the trunk upstairs (why bring the scary doll closer to you??) inside they find the wedding announcement for Nate’s relatives – they have the same anniversary as our couple. The trunk has a false bottom and they also find some photos of the old couple, Mary and William. Emily thinks Nate looks like his Great times whatever Uncle. I think the photo looks like Danny Trejo. There is also a nudey photo of Mary. Don’t perve Nate, that’s your Great times whatever Aunt, nasty.
Another title card, ‘New Life’ – Emily buys a tree, ‘to bring new life here’, yeah, that’ll make up for the loss of your baby. They have a lovely planting ceremony, there they discuss what name they might have given the child. ‘I always liked Ruth’ says Emily, actually it may have been Drew, I couldn’t make it out. The tree will henceforth be known as The Symbolism Tree, and I shall keep you updated of its progress.
That night the couple have sex for what I assume is the first time since their loss. Nate reassures Emily, who worries she is damaged, and the scene is just the right side of annoyingly cloying. No foreplay though, and I thought Nate was into all that. It all goes wrong when Nate seems to turn into his Uncle William half way through. I’d freak out too if I saw sideburns glued on that badly.
Seriously, I’d Freak Too If I Suddenly Found Myself Having Sex With Hoggle From Labyrinth.
The next day, after Emily has taken her anti-depressant pills, she notices the toilet is behaving strangely in a bubbly manner, be careful lady! We’ve all seen that Tooms episode of X-Files! No hundred year old mutant here though, just tree roots, attacking their pipes. Their friendly neighbourhood plumbers come out to check it out and place a camera down the pipes to inspect the damage. They find a skull. And then a whole skeleton. The local sheriff does his level best to freak out the couple further. I mean it, he really tries. The killer may be gone forever, records will probably show nothing. Good work that man.
Should Have Got These Plumbers – Two Birds, One Stone.
‘Old Secrets’ – bitchy blonde art dealer Risa shows to take Nate to look at some art galleries. She practically starts humping his leg in the hallway, thus basically signing her own death warrant. Emily goes to town to visit the local historical society and meets the scatty Avery. He already knows about the unearthed skeleton and is full of glee about the whole affair, the Weaver house has always fascinated him, as it has a dark past – suicides, disappearances, murders, even a prolific serial killer stayed there. In the 1960s the place was a school and the headmistress fell (or was pushed) out the second storey window. I can’t imagine why The Weaver family kept the place, clearly cursed. Avery seems to get a sexual charge out of recounting all these tragic events to poor Emily, but he is convinced the mystery of the bones will soon be answered, once tests have been carried out on them. It seems odd that Nate knew nothing of all this horrible family history, his episode of Who Do You Think You Are? would have been epic.
Back at the house, strange things keep occurring, doors open by themselves, pictures fall off the walls. Emily isn’t sufficiently freaked out enough though, and continues to stay there, and with the doll as well. Stay in the house if you must, but for God’s sake burn the disturbing doll.
Emily is awoken in the night by a guttural voice rasping ‘Maaary’. She doesn’t just leave, right there and then. She could have done, Nate left the car after all. She calmly makes her way downstairs to get a glass of water, stopping to look at a painting of the house that’s clearly troubling her, with a strange black figure in one of the windows. She goes back upstairs, and seems to be followed by a weird light anomaly, or could be car headlights passing. She goes into her dress making room and adjusts one of the tailor dummies, it jerks back into position and when she turns to run for it she is faced by the ghost of Mary Weaver, blood covered and also a fellow miscarriage sufferer by the look of it. Emily faints, and doesn’t just fall into the dummy which as right behind her, but falls gently (and photogentically) to the floor.
Emily is feeling surprisingly rational about these events as she recounts them to the town Doctor. He thinks she may be sleepwalking and suffering vivid dreams due to the stress of the miscarriage. This is all lovely and expositiony but I was totally distracted by the giant poster of the female reproductive system behind Emily for the whole scene. The Symbolism Tree is dying. This is the point where we all shout ‘symbolism!’ at the screen, hence the name of Symbolism Tree. Clever eh?
Ah, Symbolism Tree, We Hardly Knew Ye (Ooh, A Rhyme).
‘Strange Happenings’ – What’s gone on up until now clearly wasn’t strange enough. Cracks are appearing in the lovely couple that are Nate and Emily. He’s working loads and late at night to prepare for his new gallery show that the wannabe husband stealer Risa (Booo!) has arranged for him and is snappy. Emily is moody (‘What’s wrong’ he asks, ‘nothing’, she replies – Dude, you are in sooo much trouble!) The tests on the bones are also complete and belong to an adult female that died about 150 years ago. Emily immediately assumes it’s Mary Weaver, Nate doesn’t seem that arsed. It is HIS family after all; you think he’d be a little interested. Emily receives a call from the doctor, who tells her she’s pregnant! Once again, Nate doesn’t seem that arsed. Maybe he knows he knows he’s one to another loser. Nothing good can come out of a baby mysteriously conceived in a haunted house of death and suffering.
Nate is acting very odd indeed, he’s working all hours of the day and night, won’t let Emily see the painting he’s working on ( I’m betting it’s something horrible, like him butchering Emily or something) and doesn’t want to go to the doctor’s appointment with his wife. He’s so becoming possessed by Danny Trejo – Yeah, Ok, his ancestor William, but how much more belting would this film be if Danny Trejo showed up?
Random scene where Emily is waiting at some traffic lights on her way to her doctor’s appointment and gets engaged in a staring contest with a crazy looking woman selling headless rabbits holding a baby. The ghost also seems to be possessing traffic lights as well as her husband. This just seems like something they filmed for the trailer, to unsettle the audience.
Emily buys some fertiliser for the Symbolism Tree (Come on, Symbolism Tree, I’m rooting for you. Pun intended) Nate seems to be more Natelike (apart some sitting in front of the open fridge, but we all do that from time to time right?). Emily has what Nate jokingly refers to as a ‘super uterus’ (This joke does not go down well) which healed some of the scaring from the previous miscarriage. Once again her pregnancy is high-risk and she’s to be mostly on bed rest and to avoid stress, Nate vows to take care of her. I can’t see this going anything but badly.
Nate paints, Emily watches Night of The Living Dead (What was that rule about not referencing a better film in your bad one?) Nate paints, Emily sews, Nate paints, Emily plays cards. Then they fight. Come on ghosties, where have you got to? We’re in danger of turning into Desperate Housewives here.
Seriously, If You’d Rather Watch Fertile Ground Than This, There Is No Hope For You.
‘The Gathering’ – Nate and Emily are having a party for all their city friends they have totally ignored since moving away. Emily is not having fun at the party, and watches Risa flirt up a storm with her husband. Not cool pet, I see death in your future. Emily starts seeing figures in period clothing around the party, and gets her lovely white party dress ruined by a klutz armed with red wine. Avery the historian also shows up with more vivid, lovingly described murderings I’d wager. Emily goes upstairs to change her dress and sees Risa snooping around being stalked by the bloody ghost of Mary Weaver. Clock’s a ticking Risa, and the time says death o’clock.
Nate is outside fighting with Brittany about whether they should have had the party considering Emily’s fragile state. Suddenly Risa joins them. From the second floor window (yes, a la the headmistress in Avery’s story. And yes, featuring the loose window mentioned earlier). As Nate looks up he sees a figure in a white dress move away from the window. Risa is not dead and statements are needed. The Symbolism Tree is seriously on the wane. Emily confides in Brittany about her paranormal experiences. Brittany thinks she may be seeing ghosts as pregnant women are very sensitive to things going on around them.
Emily is reading in bed when she hears a gunshot. Nate has killed…a rabbit I think…and is in the middle of gutting it when Emily comes in. ‘It was supposed to be a surprise’ he says. Er, and you didn’t think a gunshot would rouse your pregnant wife, and where did you even get a gun? ‘Go back to bed’ he tells, her, waving a knife in her face. Relaxing. Emily isn’t keen on whatever it is that Nate’s whipped up for them. Oh, it was rabbit. After a brief ethical debate (which Nate, crazy as he is going, was kind of right on) Tension is everywhere and Emily goes to throw up, although she stresses it wasn’t the rabbit ‘Blame the child’ says Nate coldly. He’s definitely getting his James Brolin on.
If You’d Rather Watch Fertile Ground Than Amityville Horror…Oh You Get The Idea.
Emily sees a little girl in a white dress run into the haunted shed/studio and goes outside to check it out, creepy children’s laughter following her all the way. No child in the studio. (Should have taken advantage of Nate not being there to take a peek at the death painting, and then got the hell lot of there. The doctor saying ‘no travel’ probably doesn’t apply when your husband’s trying to kill you. Emily follows the ghost girl (who seems to be wearing a 1980s party dress, as opposed to period clothes) round the side of the house and finds a grave with a cross over it. She digs away with her hands and finds Nate in the grave. But wait, bad sideburn Nate/William Weaver is looming behind her to whack her with a spade. Watch out Emily! Phew, it was a dream, or was it? Emily’s hands are dirty as if she had been digging.
The Symbolism Tree has given up the ghost (Puns again, sorry). ‘What’s wrong with me’ Emily spells out with the building blocks they found in the old trunk. You can’t tell that your husband’s going mental. And there’s a ghost sat next to you. Both fairly bad things.
More fighting, Nate is now using a cane like evil ghost William (Where he found this is never explained). Emily drives off but is stuck with crippling pain. Keep driving! Ah, she turns around and goes back. Silly girl. Well, ring an ambulance then? Nope, she just goes to bed. Nate apologies over the intercom but can’t muster the effort to go into the house and see his wife. Oh, it wasn’t Nate, or was it? Not sure. Seriously losing the will to care. Real(ish) Nate takes off as Risa has died and he needs to take care of his art show. Get yourself to hospital love, fuck Nate.
‘Revelations’ – Sigh, Emily stays at the death house, and goes about her depressing day. The boathouse, sorry, shed still seems to be a front of the mystery, lights on and off etc. The ghost of Mary Weaver keeps popping up, I think she’s the nice ghost though. She leads Emily upstairs to her dress room. That fucking doll is still hanging around. Although helpfully she does remind Emily of all the murder information that Avery bought over. Emily reads Mary Weaver’s diary, and her life bore a striking similarity to her own, dates and all. Today August 13th, is the date all the previous female inhabitants died, killed by their husbands, while they were pregnant. Emily rings Brittany in panic, babbling at a mile a minute, convinced that Nate is going to kill her and that she can’t leave the property without unbearable pain. Brittany tells her to lock the doors and wait and she’ll be there as soon as she can.
There’s a storm brewing. Emily waits for Brittany, but the ghosts will not leave her alone. She arms herself with a knife, but changes her mind and goes to the shed to get the gun. She goes to the shed and all the canvases are blank (Man, I was way off base on that one) and Nate’s there, suddenly. How and why he went back to the house is, again, never explained. In fact the whole scene is so fast there’s barely enough time to register it actually is Nate before the scene ends.
She pegs it back to the house and locks the door (yeah, that’ll help), and tries to call the police. No reception, consider me stunned. Nate gets in, Emily regrabs the knife as her choice of weapon and runs upstairs to the baby’s room. The creakiest door that ever creaked creaks open and Nate is silhouetted there. He doesn’t spot her cunning hiding place of crouched down beside a chest of drawers and leaves.
Clutching her knife Emily inches her way along the corridor, expecting crazy Nate at every turn. She then stabs Brittany, who has arrived to help, in the neck. Nate/William shows up and Emily pushes him down the stairs. That won’t stop Nate/William though. Emily goes out into the roof but Nate/William, now dressed in the period garb complete with sideburns and hilarious fake nose smashes through a window and grabs her. They struggle with the knife and both go over the roof. Emily slashes up Nate/William, who rapidly returns to just Nate. He is now dead. The rain falls.
That’s A Pretty Stupid Way To Hold A Knife.
Cut to ultrasound. Complete with armed guards at the door. Emily obviously having been arrested for two murders. Deemed crazy, she is placed in a padded cell, we’re not sure if she ends up having a baby. The ultrasound looked blank, but I don’t have the knowledge of those things. She’s cradling an imaginary infant at the end though. Whichever way you slice it, she’s not getting out of that cell in a hurry.
Fertile (and extremely well trod) Ground indeed. And again, it’s just ok. It didn’t make me anywhere near as angry as Hit and Run, nor groan at the character’s stupidity as much as Husk (which was actually made by the same production company, After Dark Ltd). As mentioned, there’s a very liberal dash of Amityville Horror (and copious other haunted house films), especially with Nate’s descent into madness. Nate and Emily seem like good people, if a little dull, and Nate definitely gets the short end of the characterization stick. The tragedy they suffer at the beginning installs sympathy early for the couple. The title cards once again, straight out of Amityville, although seeing as they used the same font as the Dawson’s Creek titles it was kind of hard to take them seriously. There’s a couple of effective jump scares although the film seems to rely on the horror film practise of a big orchestral clash at the scare moment so your reacting to the loud noise as much as the scare itself. The mystery of the house, although signposted, is well done, but the whole thing is full of pot holes – was Emily crazy the whole time? Why did the original murder of Mary Weaver even happen? She seemed to be a benign spirit but she pushed the bitchy blonde out the window? It’s really just too derivative to enjoy. I recommend you watch any of the other haunted ghost films I’ve mentioned in this review instead (with the possible exception of Haunted Mansion).