The best kind of horror films are the ones that focus on relatable fears, such as being trapped in a locked room or lost in the woods. Yoko Okumura‘s Unseen takes this concept and drills it down even further to an everyday possibility, while introducing another vital element: putting trust in a complete stranger.
Emily (Midori Francis) wakes up to her abusive ex-boyfriend. He has bad intentions for her and she needs to escape his clutches. In the ensuing struggle, however, she breaks her glasses, which she desperately requires as she has severe visual impairment. Alone in the woods, with only her phone in hand, she dials a random number and reaches Sam (Jolene Purdy), a gas station clerk. Emily begs Sam for assistance, asking the stranger to be her eyes and support. The goodhearted Sam tries to get Emily to safety while the ex lurks not too far behind in the distance.
Non-stop tension and thrills
While the threat of Emily’s ex catching up to her is the main source of tension here, there are several other layers to the anxiety-inducing Unseen. Almost anyone can relate to Sam, who is somewhat powerless in this situation. She is trying to do good for a stranger, but there is a lot she can’t control in the situation and needs to hope for the best. Seemingly, she feels like a failure if she leads Emily down the wrong path, since she holds someone’s safety in her hands and every decision is critical.
Without delving into spoilers, there are also a handful of events at the gas station that impede Sam’s ability to focus solely on Emily. She not only needs to aid the stranger on the phone, but also help herself in the process. Unseen is a survival horror; however, its biggest theme is about saving each other — in more ways than just from the surface level threat.
Unseen is a compact film that doesn’t venture into too many different places, sticking to two primary locations, the gas station and the woods, while also not featuring too many characters. As a result, Francis and Purdy carry the majority of the film. Fortunately, these two actors have a natural chemistry and it’s easy to get behind both of their characters. The audience wants to see them succeed, and roots for them from the start. Another standout performance comes from Missi Pyle, who stars as Carol, the stuck-up shopper at the gas station’s convenience store. Without giving too much away, her character goes through a wild and unexpected transition.
Okumura takes Salvatore Cardoni and Brian Rawlins’ story and guides it in a refreshingly easy-going manner. The director lets the tension and anxiety play out in a cohesive and organic manner, resisting the urge to make quick cuts or jump scares and allowing the actors to carry the moments and for Tangelene Bolton’s score to do the work. Additionally, Okumura encourages the natural humour to flow in the story. People often forget how humans turn to quips or jokes to diffuse a frightening situation, and the characters do the same here — but don’t mistake this for Unseen being a chuckle-fest, because it’s far from it.
Unseen will keep the viewer on the edge of the seat throughout its runtime. It isn’t only because of the known threat, but also the unexpected twists and turns that take the audience on a roller coaster of emotions. Once again, Blumhouse delivers another memorable horror film that merits multiple rewatches.