His fingers wrapped in hockey tape, Bob Langmore works his shift at the lumber mill in a remote town in northern Canada. After a taxing shift, he returns to his disheveled trailer and unwinds with a beer. There on his couch, he unwraps the well-worn hockey tape to reveal…nothing. It’s starting at his fingers, the condition. Langmore is vanishing.
Based on its concept and pedigree alone, writer-director Geoff Redknap’s feature debut The Unseen was one of the must-see world premieres at this year’s Fantasia Festival. Redknap is a makeup and special effects maestro, with a resume that includes Deadpool, Cabin in the Woods, and the Final Destination series. In The Unseen, he takes this effects wizardry and combines it with compelling storytelling to tell a gritty, most unconventional Invisible Man story.
Played by Aden Young, star of TV’s wicked underrated Rectify, Langmore is a man slowly disappearing, both literally and metaphorically – having abandoned his wife and daughter years before. He also gave up his career as a professional hockey player because of his condition, which is incredibly painful. I really dug that idea – that turning invisible is an agonizing process. It reminds me of John Landis’ idea to make the werewolf transformation an excruciating experience for the afflicted. It adds a whole other layer to the notion of being “cursed.”
Langmore tries to conceal his condition with the hockey tape, as well as a bandana around his neck and small bandages on his face. The poor bastard is starting to look like a leper. But the process is speeding up and he can’t hide it much longer. He knows what’s coming on the horizon: complete invisibility.
In the midst of his vanishing act, Langmore’s ex-wife Darlene (Camille Sutherland) pleads with him to visit his rebellious teen daughter Eva (Julia Sarah Stone), who Darlene believes is in desperate need of a father figure. Knowing that his absolute disappearance is looming, Langmore takes a job as a drug mule for a local dealer to make some fast cash. He uses the drug delivery run as an opportunity to visit his daughter, only to see her go missing shortly after he arrives in town (as in face on the milk carton missing, not invisible woman missing).
Langmore’s condition worsens as he searches the town for his daughter. Here in the town, Redknap captures rural dynamics very well, with all of its politics and the shared sense of isolation. It’s like a Springsteen song set in northern Canada. The production design inside homes and stores is wonderfully detailed, adding a lot of weight to the story of a hometown hockey player returning a shunned man.
On the ice, Langmore was known as a bruiser and these fisticuff skills come in handy when he starts to unravel the fate of his daughter. He’s not all muscle though. Young gives an understated performance that puts Langmore’s failures and vulnerability on full display. He’s like a train running out of steam as he comes to terms with not only his condition, but also his failure as a father.
For all of the huge movies and effects Redknap has been a part of, he shows a great deal of restraint with his work here in The Unseen. Where the parts of Langmore have disappeared, we can see inside his body, but there’s no wild gore or anything over the top. Like the rest of the film, the invisibility effects are minimalist, allowing them to fit right into the story – not become the center of it. Don’t get me wrong, the effects look amazing. It’s the restraint that makes them so wicked though. Redknap could’ve easily gone a much flashier route, which would’ve taken away from the heart of the film. Like the third bowl of porridge, Redknap’s approach is just right.
The Unseen is a miraculously solid blend of thriller, horror, and family drama that unravels in a tangible small town setting. It’s the type of debut film that makes you all tingly inside, knowing that Redknap has a lot more in store as a filmmaker. After years in the makeup/effects department, he’s taken his skills and crafted something truly captivating. The Unseen demands to be, uh, seen.
The film screened at the ongoing Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal.