It might seem a long way from the operating room to operating a film camera, but director Jason Todd Ipson made that very leap. A general surgery resident based in Boston, Ipson hung up his latex gloves and headed west to tackle the illusion of his former reality.
UNREST follows a first year medical student Alison Blanchard (Corri English, KILLER PAD) through what is considered to be the greatest nightmare of most med students existence—Gross Anatomy. On her first day of class, she is paired with three other students and introduced to their cadaver, which they promptly name Norma. Only this Norma is hardly ready for her close-up Mr. DeMille, as she is mysteriously covered in large purple scars. Preparing to make the first incision and begin their dissection, Alison promptly throws-up and passes out—in inauspicious beginning at best. Upon her return, a great uneasiness comes over her and she is sure that something is not quite right with the corpse. Not to long after the incidents of the first day, streams of folk who come in contact with Norma suddenly begin to meet an untimely end. As the bodies begin to pile up, Alison must determine if the knots in her stomach are nothing more than unfounded fears or if the corpse of Norma is killing her fellow students.
The sad reality is that horror films are almost never fresh. The tried and true plot devices that populate script upon script are often as ripe as the rank stench of a three-week-old corpse rotting in the Southern California sunshine. So, when a film comes along that shows a real spark of imagination, even the most jaded genre fan tends to perk up and take notice. The real quandary this presents is why aren’t the gorehounds barking like rabid puppies over UNREST?
For my money this film damn near has it all. The level of realism in the effects work provided by the crew at Optic Nerve is out of the park incredible. Ipson crafts the films suspense with nary a visual flaw—the audio has some issues I’ll address in a minute. Add on to that the filmmaker’s intimate familiarity with the base subject matter and not only does Ipson deliver a tense thriller with a body count to boot he crafts a surprisingly intelligent context to round it all out. Fanboys should be drooling like Cujo to get their hands on a copy of this bad boy.
What strikes me most about the film is the detail that the director unfurls during the course of the plot. It’s that kind of care, that kind of appreciation for the horrors that actual medical students face, on dark nights, with nothing but the cold steel of the scalpel and the soft blue flesh of the cadaver to populate their dreams and nightmares, which makes the supernatural elements of the production work so well.
UNREST could have been hokey. It could have used every manner of jump-scare-tactics in the book to force a reaction. But it instead allows the viewer to identify with the lead actress and truly take part in her terror. It succeeds where most ghost stories and slasher films fail, in that the focus of the story is more on the individuals that are living it than on the entities that are wreaking the havoc in it. That success is easily embodied in the performance of Corri English, who feels right in the role and even manages to make a potentially awkward romance element work by playing the love scenes with a lighthearted slant. English really sets herself apart from the faceless scream queens that tend to occupy the space on-screen in most low-rent horror films. She is definitely one to watch and her role in Robert Englund’s upcoming KILLER PAD should give genre fans more fodder for their latest obsession.
Beside the aforementioned romance bit, the film also slightly suffers from an overabundance of score in the final moments. Perhaps taking a cue from Jerry Goldsmith’s award-winning OMEN score, the film adds a bit too much chanting and drumming to punctuate the pace of the final reel. It doesn’t damage the film’s impact; it only overpowers what had been up to that point a more subtle and consequently more substantial score. I understand the thought process that added it in, I just don’t think the mix was quite right and ultimately it tended to drown out the on-screen action.
Still, if an odd sound mix and an unnecessary sub-plot are the worst sins that Ipson makes in a world populated by filmmakers like Michael Bay and Renny Harlin—who’ve turned subtlety and coherence into dirty words—then kudos to him for creating something that most genre fans haven’t seen in decades—a moody and dark horror film, in the best Roman Polanski tradition, that knows how to deliver the scares without resorting to cheap trickery, and dialogue with out resorting to “look over there” language. UNREST should be at the top of your list for films that have already slipped under your radar.