Writer and director Gary Sinyor’s first venture into horror, The Unseen (2017), is frustrating because of its sloppy execution of an interesting premise. Will (Richard Flood) and Gemma Shields (Jasmine Hyde) suffer from incredible guilt following the accidental death of their young son. Gemma begins to have panic attacks that take her vision, and the audience goes blind along with her.
Gemma and Will are helped by their new friend Paul (Simon Cotton), an ex-pharmacist who helped Gemma when she had her first episode of blindness and stumbled out into the road. Paul offers to let Gemma and Will stay at his lake house, where they can work through their grief and Gemma’s panic attacks. It’s all a bit like the first act of Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, but without the graphic sex. Gemma and Will are both going through their own trauma as they deal with what happened to their son. Gemma loses her vision, while Will hears their sons’ voice speaking to him in his bedroom. Will believes their son is a ghost who can talk to him, and he becomes increasingly religious.
The first act languishes in Will and Gemma’s pain. They have awkward, sobbing sex. They argue over Gemma’s Lorazepam (sedative) prescription. Will has a total mental breakdown over some fish. It’s difficult to watch these two suffer, but the introduction of Paul only ramps up their anguish. Will can’t handle being away from his son’s room and the voice, and he leaves Gemma with Paul at the secluded lake house.
The problem with The Unseen is that nothing is ever fully developed. There are a handful of tense scenes and unique ideas, but everything unravels at the lake house. Spoilers ahead.
Paul brings Will back to the lake house and tells Gemma that he had to sedate Will for his safety. Gemma starts to suspect Paul is up to something. She pretends to have blindness episodes around Paul, and she sees him lie to her several times. She watches him sedate Will despite telling her that Will should wake soon. Worse, she sees him pretend to leave the room and watch her undress. It turns out Paul is vile.
Paul isn’t just the kind of vile guy that peeps on the blind while they change. He has also been spying on Will and Gemma for months. Over a year, actually, via microphones he secretly installed in their house. Paul saw Gemma in a bookstore and stalked the whole family, waiting for his opportunity to strike. He was nearby when their son died, and he let him die.
Gemma discovers all this when she steals Paul’s laptop and escapes with Will – or so she thinks! Paul pretends to be Will and they end up right back where they started. There’s a husband-ex-machina when Will finally wakes up and saves his pregnant wife from her super stalker. They escape, and the movie ends with a nice little scene of Gemma, Will, and their new baby together in a new house.
Aside from a few tense scenes, nothing feels of consequence. The violence is relatively tame and some of the plot twists feel as if they were thrown in at the last minute, like her pregnancy. Perhaps the biggest mistake the film makes is using the ever-popular “Flower Duet” as the music that plays while their son dies, and subsequently, the music that triggers Gemma’s blindness. The “Flower Duet” has been used in so many other films, shows, and advertisements, that its inclusion here immediately takes the viewer out of the story. It’s jarring, far too recognizable but obscure enough to annoy the viewer (and not show up on a Shazam search).
The cinematography isn’t anything spectacular, but The Unseen has the same kind of aesthetic as the work of Michael Haneke. Everything is cold and muted, which helps with the dreary tone of the plot. Cotton and Flood are both good in their roles as Paul and Will, and Cotton clearly has some fun when he gets to be the “real” Paul.
The best thing about The Unseen is Jasmine Hyde’s performance. She brings life to Gemma, and helps the viewer feel her pain, her grief, and her fear. Her representation of what it’s like to have a panic attack is pretty accurate, and she’s at her best in the most intense scenes. I look forward to seeing what she brings to the role of Sister Grace in Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens.
Overall, The Unseen feels like a hodgepodge of other movies’ ideas, executed with competence but little style or real substance. Whenever it feels like The Unseen is about to dig into its deeper themes, there’s a quick tonal shift and a plot twist. It’s a shame, too, because there’s so much potential here.
The Unseen comes to DVD and VOD in the UK on 12 February 2018