Unseen (2023) poster

Unseen (2023)

Rating:


USA. 2023.

Crew

Director – Yoko Okumura, Screenplay – Salvatore Cardoni & Brian Rawlins, Producers – Paige Pemberton & Paul B. Uddo, Photography – Federico Verardi, Music – Tangelene Bolton, Visual Effects – VFX Legion, ULC & Visionary FX, Special Effects Supervisor – Mik Kastner, Makeup Effects – Carlos Savant, Production Design – Spencer Davison. Production Company – Blumhouse

Cast

Midori Francis (Emily Kasahara), Jolene Purdy (Sam), Michael Patrick Lane (Charlie Bellwick), Missi Pyle (Carol), Nicholas X. Parsons (Isaac), Brett Baker (Carl)


Plot

Emily Kashara comes around to find she has been abducted by her abusive ex-boyfriend Charlie and is held prisoner at his cabin. She is able to make an escape, wounding him, but in doing so loses her glasses. Without her glasses, everything in front of her face is a blur. Stumbling through the woods, she calls a random number on her phone call display. This is picked up by Sam, a clerk at the Gator Galore gas station/convenience store in Tallahassee. Despite not knowing her, Emily begs Sam’s help, using the phone’s camera to get Sam to see what obstacles are in front of her and if Charlie is pursuing.


Unseen was a Blumhouse production. I was surprised that it was released to tv as it is a good enough work that it deserves far wider exposure. It may simply be that with the shrinking of theatrical content in favour of tentpole films that preference was given instead to some of Blumhouse’s more established franchises. (See below for Blumhouse’s other films). Unseen should not be confused with other films with similar titles such as the horror film The Unseen (1981) or the invisibility film The Unseen (2016).

Unseen joins a reasonable spate of what could be termed survival thrillers that came out in the 2020-2 period that consist (mostly) of women undergoing harrowing survival journeys through the outdoors where they are hunted, usually by male scumbags (Michael Patrick Lane here is outfitted with a bunch of lines that make him a supremely obnoxious alpha male jerk). Other examples include Alone (2020), Hunted (2020), The Retreat (2021), Hunt Club (2022) and Hunting Ava Bravo (2022).

Although in many ways, rather than any of these others, what we have feels closer to the thriller The Call (2013) in which Halle Berry plays a 911 call operator trying to help an abducted Abigail Breslin. The set-up is a uniquely original one. The idea of the nearly blind girl (Midori Francis) having to find her way through the woods, while being pursued by someone who means her harm and having to rely on a total stranger (Jolene Purdy) to navigate for her via the phone’s camera app, is positively ingenious.

Midori Francis searches for her glasses in Unseen (2023)
A near-blind Midori Francis searches for her glasses
Jolene Purdy in Unseen (2023)
Jolene Purdy answers a call for help

Unseen is filled with great tension. It keeps you on a seat edge the entire way and comes with fantastic twists that compound the situation every few minutes – Midori’s fall down the side of the river bank as Michael Patrick Lane comes hunting up above; Midori’s decision to get into the car and try and run Lane down despite not being able to see what she is doing; Jolene Purdy dealing with an exploding slushy and a cut hand; Jolene finding the phone is running out of power just as she breaks the recharger cable; her decision to steal Missi Pyle’s phone, followed by Missi bursting into the convenience store with a gun to get it back; Midori’s decision to throw herself off the cliff into the river.

This does require slightly improbable set-ups at times, like the phone falling so that Jolene conveniently gets a view of both Midori hiding at the bottom and Michael Patrick Lane searching for her up the top of the river bank. Or where Missi Pyle and her husband (Brett Baker) burst into the convenience store with semi-automatic weapons to get her phone back from Jolene. It may say something about how crazed American (or at least Florida’s) gun laws are that when the police arrive at the scene they seem unconcerned about the couple trying to shoot an unarmed convenience store clerk with military-grade guns and only about the fact that Jolene has stolen Missi’s phone.

The two actresses, Midori Francis and Jolene Purdy, create a great rapport despite neither of them physically interacting through the entire film (at least until the end credits). Both characters have backgrounds tinged with sadness, none the more so than the final throwaway shot of the film. Both Midori and Jolene give performances that show them to be full of potential that is well worth keeping an eye on. Missi Pyle also gives an entertainingly over-the-top performance as an awful woman of moneyed privilege and entitlement.

Unseen was a feature-length directorial debut for Yoko Okumura, an expatriate Japanese director who now lives in the US and had worked in music video and made several short films.

Jason Blum and his Blumhouse production company have produced a number of other genre films including:- Hamlet (2000), Paranormal Activity (2007) and sequels, Insidious (2010) and sequels, Tooth Fairy (2010), The Bay (2012), The Lords of Salem (2012), The River (tv series, 2012), Sinister (2012) and sequel, Dark Skies (2013), Oculus (2013), The Purge (2013) and sequels, the tv mini-series Ascension (2014), Creep (2014), Jessabelle (2014), Mercy (2014), Mockingbird (2014), Not Safe for Work (2014), Ouija (2014) and sequel, 13 Sins (2014), The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014), Unfriended/Cybernatural (2014), Area 51 (2015), The Boy Next Door (2015), Curve (2015), The Gallows (2015), The Gift (2015), Jem and the Holograms (2015), The Lazarus Effect (2015), Martyrs (2015), Visions (2015), The Visit (2015), The Darkness (2016), Hush (2016), Incarnate (2016), The Veil (2016), Viral (2016), Amityville: The Awakening (2017), Get Out (2017), Happy Death Day (2017), The Keeping Hours (2017), Split (2017), Stephanie (2017), Bloodline (2018), Cam (2018), Delirium (2018), Family Blood (2018), Halloween (2018), Seven in Heaven (2018), Truth or Dare (2018), Upgrade (2018), Black Christmas (2019), Ma (2019), Prey (2019), Don’t Let Go (2019), Sweetheart (2019), Black Box (2020), The Craft: Legacy (2020), Freaky (2020), The Hunt (2020), The Invisible Man (2020), Nocturne (2020), You Should Have Left (2020), Black As Night (2021), The Black Phone (2021), Dashcam (2021), Firestarter (2022), M3gan (2022), Mr Harrigan’s Phone (2022), Nanny (2022), Soft & Quiet (2022), Run Sweetheart Run (2022), Sick (2022), They/Them (2022), The Visitor (2022), Torn Hearts (2022), Unhuman (2022), The Exorcist: Believer (2023), Five Nights at Freddy’s (2023), There’s Something Wrong With the Children (2023), Totally Killer (2023), Imaginary (2024) and Night Swim (2024).

(Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Natalie Palamides) at this site’s Best of 2023 Awards).


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