UK Release Date: 5th September 2016
Runtime: 90 minutes
Director: Sheldon Wilson
Writer: Sheldon Wilson
Starring: Jodelle Ferland, Sunny Suljic, Pascale Hutton, Anthony Konechny, Neal McDonough, Chanelle Peloso, Jake Croker, Rukiya Bernard, Jonathan Whitesell
Synopsis: When she takes on a babysitting job at a house with a mysterious past, a young woman forms a bond with the mute child who lives there, even as evil forces seem to swirl around the building.
Supernatural horror movies have taken up the slack left by the drastic reduction in the popularity of the found footage sub-genre to become the dominant brand of scary movie at the modern multiplex. The latest film to take up the mantle is Unspoken, from writer-director Sheldon Wilson. It’s a slightly twisted take on the classic haunted house movie that sticks fairly rigidly to convention, but still has a handful of tricks up its sleeve. Unfortunately, those tricks are unveiled with a flounder rather than a flourish.
Angela (Jodelle Ferland) takes up a babysitting job in an attempt to help her cash-strapped father. It turns out that the job involves venturing into a house that is notorious locally for mysterious disappearances in the 90s, but has since been bought by Jeanie (Pascale Hutton). Her son, Adrian (Sunny Suljic), is an unusual child who doesn’t speak and is prone to silently hiding himself around the house. A group of local criminals led by Luther (Anthony Konechny) have stashed some items in the house and decide that they need to retrieve them, braving the supernatural horrors within.
Unspoken is a deeply unusual beast, in that it’s a thoroughly routine, rather lazy ghost train journey with an undercurrent of weirdness running through it. The jump scares arrive with entirely predictable regularity and never even threaten to diverge from the usual tics of the haunted house tale. By the time Jodelle Ferland gasps at the appearance of a marble for the hundredth time, it becomes really difficult to care about any of the surprises Sheldon Wilson pulls out of his directorial box of tricks. The only saving grace is the consistent hint that this isn’t quite the usual haunting.
The sense of unease that permeates throughout Unspoken is enhanced by an impressively creepy performance from debutant Sunny Suljic, as the mute child placed in the care of Ferland’s protagonist. Suljic is able to communicate a great deal of emotions with just a glance and has a quiet intensity that really proves to be a benefit in the final third when it all goes a little bit crazy. Unfortunately, there’s no one else in the cast that can match Suljic’s magnetism, with Ferland in particular proving to be a dull presence and Konechny turning in one of the most unimpressive villainous turns in years. His character veers from slightly thuggish youth to all-out murderer with very little explanation from Wilson’s script.
It’s a script that serves up all of its central characters with excruciating dialogue, which is routinely over-written and packed to bursting with cliché and contrivance. No one speaks like a human being and the storytelling is ham-fisted to the extreme, with major plot points tossed to one side despite their apparent significance. One delightfully icky slaying, for instance, has no material implications on the narrative and is discarded as soon as it has provided its moment of grotesque shock. This problematic storytelling is even more apparent in the final twist, which is utterly bonkers, but is given no time to breathe or to allow the dust to settle. Unspoken races to a hammy final visual gag and rolls the credits before the audience can even begin to work out what has happened.
Unspoken is a film that struggles to impress on any level, whether as an exercise in genuine terror, cheap shock or mind-bending twists. It’s a shoddily put together mess of a movie, with performers entirely unable to elevate the disappointing material around them. The film deserves credit for daring to be different in its final act, but the execution is sloppy and nonsensical at every turn.
No special features were available for review.
Pop or Poop?
There’s a really good movie lurking somewhere within the DNA of Unspoken, but this certainly isn’t it. A more skilled filmmaker might have somehow made the ludicrous final twist make sense, but this fight was lost way before the audience had the rug pulled from under them. Plenty of things go bump in the night here, but the film never goes with a bang.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Unspoken is available on DVD now courtesy of Arrow Films.