The Unseen, director Gary Sinyor’s first pilgrimage into the horror genre, is a solemn tale of loss, grief, and obsession. The film stars Jasmine Hyde as Gemma, an audiobook narrator whose young son tragically drowns in an indoor pool shortly after the film begins. After the traumatic event, Gemma begins to suffer from severe panic attacks which cause her vision to blur. Gemma and her husband Will (Richard Flood) are finding it difficult to deal with both the loss of their dear son and Gemma’s new panic attack disorder. The couple decides to go away for a weekend to a remote guest lake house owned by Paul (Simon Cotton), a kind man who once helped Gemma after she suddenly lost vision and wandered into the road by her home. At the lake house, Will begins to hear his late son’s voice at night; Gemma continues to have frequent panic attacks. Soon the couple begins to unravel and Gemma must get to the source of their problems, whatever it may be.
The thing about The Unseen is that it has all the makings for a great, truly dark genre film. The themes of sorrow and post-traumatic stress are ever-present and are refreshing at a time when gotcha-scares and ghosts are most popular. However, the film falls flat under the weight of its central special effect- the point-of-view, blurry vision camera whenever Gemma has her panic attacks. It’s understood that the distorted and blotchy vision is meant to put viewers in Gemma’s shoes, but the fact is it’s used far too frequently and seems to be a means to create mystery. This feels cheap, as the story should be what works to create and build suspense. The film should not resort to hiding whole scenes to do the legwork. In addition, the blurred vision is plain annoying after about the third instance. Perhaps if used more sparingly, this camera effect would better serve the plot while embracing viewers, rather than putting them off.
Moreover, the film doesn’t push far enough. It utilizes jump scares-infrequent and surprisingly tame as they may be- to reel viewers back in just when they start to doze off, but doesn’t seem to fully commit to the horror genre until the film is nearly over. The story is mainly that of a dark drama, replaying the same few scenes over and over again- Will loses it, Gemma loses her vision, Paul comes to rescue Gemma. Just when the creep factor begins to be turned up, the film pulls back and returns to drama territory. There is a moment later on where we start to think The Unseen will take the occultist route, much like this year’s A Dark Song, which also explores themes of loss and communicating with one’s child from “the other side”. This would have been a welcome surprise for The Unseen because this short scene is actually frightening and alarming, unlike much of the rest of the film. However, rather than expand on the idea presented in this scene, the film turns on its heel. In fairness, Gemma contests the notions of any supernatural occurrences throughout the film, so when the story immediately returns to real-world issues, it isn’t exactly a shock. More accurately, it’s frustrating because the film is verging on boring just before the scene hits.
The actual mystery and how it’s solved turns out to be interesting, but the ends do not justify the means. Because of the combined issues with pacing and lack of scares, The Unseen is a bit of a slog. A Dark Song, with its thorough eeriness and prevalent gloominess, executes the same ideas with a more deliberate pace, more ambition, and- perhaps most importantly- more horror. Although A Dark Song goes way off the rails, at least it takes a chance. The Unseen takes the kernel of a thrilling idea and doesn’t even attempt to see it through to its full potential.
The Unseen is not altogether bad. In fact, it’s made well and is visually beautiful. There are scenes which are picture-perfect, such as when Will and Gemma climb a mountain overlooking a lake one dreary day. Further, the acting is very good on the parts of all three core actors; the dialogue and chemistry between the three is seamless and natural. It’s almost more frustrating that The Unseen is so competently made because it means that the skill set to elevate the film was there and just not employed. Had the film seen any one of its ideas through all the way, it could have been great and truly memorable rather than bland and grating.
When you get right down to it, The Unseen just doesn’t hit its mark. It does the bare minimum to feign suspense but is not compelling. The film does too little too late in the way of horror, and this results in a dull movie which will likely push away its target audience.
The Unseen opens in UK cinemas on December 15th.