In the hands of a master storyteller, a tale of a man’s descent into madness can be not only unsettling but revelatory and perversely beautiful. That’s certainly the case with Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” in which Humbert Humbert relates, in the most entrancing prose, the ultimately disastrous fulfillment of his dark desires with the titular nymphet. Unfortunately, Owen Long is not such a storyteller, and his rather loony reworking of the “Lolita” template succeeds in being unsettling, but also—despite the elegance of Kev C. Lang’s production design and Eun-ah Lee’s widescreen cinematography—baffling and quite ugly.
The focal character is Marcus Milton (Trevor Long, coming across as a washed-out version of David Strathairn), a deeply troubled man who’s introduced as the killer of a young woman, though the murder might be a dream. Benumbed and disheveled, despite drug treatment from an older man named Ethan (Kevin Breznahan), he repairs to his deceased father’s coastal estate in Rhode Island, where his hoped-for isolation is disturbed by his brother (Chris McGarry), whose marital difficulties lead him to ask Marcus to babysit his children, teen Lily (Andrea Chen) and her younger brother Spencer (Garr Long), while he tries to work things out with his wife.
Marcus reluctantly agrees to take in the youngsters, who are a rather strange pair. Spencer is obsessed with insects, and runs about with a butterfly net (a reference, perhaps, to Nabokov the lepidopterist). Lily, meanwhile, is a nubile tease, making every effort to entice her uncle into bed.
Marcus’ psychological deterioration is exacerbated by all this—a fact reflected in the appearance of a gigantic spider that occasionally crawls into the action, and the electricity in the house, which occasionally goes awry. When an elderly man named Keversmith (John Emigh) decides to investigate, the outcome is unfortunate. It’s all a reflection of the fact that Marcus is truly giving in to his monstrous nature. The return of Ethan merely speeds the process.
What to make of all this? It’s easy to discern what writer-director Long is getting at, and his brother Trevor certainly broods and smolders to demonstrate his character’s mental disintegration. But the presentation is so woozy and unfocused that it becomes tiresomely opaque, and the supporting cast ranges from the merely adequate to amateurish, with Chen obviously chosen more for her looks than her thespian quality.
There’s a good deal of ambition in “Seeds,” but the film dies on the vine.