UK Release Date: 15th December 2017
Runtime: 106 minutes
Director: Gary Sinyor
Writer: Gary Sinyor
Starring: Jasmine Hyde, Richard Flood, Simon Cotton
Synopsis: A grieving couple accept an offer to visit a secluded Lake District home after the death of their son leaves the woman suffering bizarre panic attacks that obscure her sight.
The world of British independent film has various corners, from its glossy treatment of middle class public figures to the bargain basement gangster movies that fill the DVD shelves of Sainsbury’s and Tesco. The Unseen doesn’t fit into either of those categories and it’s something the British movie industry doesn’t often produce – a big, character-driven psychological thriller with a central conceit that recalls Don’t Look Now and an unreliable perspective informed by a protagonist who can’t trust even what her eyes seem to tell her.
That protagonist is Gemma, played by Jasmine Hyde, who is a regular on The Archers. She records audiobooks in her private studio and lives with Irish husband Will (Richard Flood) in a lavish home, complete with sleek surfaces, minimalist design and an indoor pool. A dramatic accident in the pool one evening leads to the death of their young son, which plunges the family into turmoil as Will experiences hallucinations and Gemma suffers panic attacks that periodically blind her. During one incident, she is helped by kindly stranger Paul (Simon Cotton), who subsequently invites the couple to stay in his secluded Lake District guest house.
The Unseen casts a weird spell with its bizarre portrayal of middle class Britain. It’s significant that the horrific inciting incident that starts the movie’s narrative takes place around a swimming pool, which is perhaps the most obvious symbol of well-to-do opulence. The prominence of water and its connection to death is also one of the movie’s clear nods to Don’t Look Now and that film’s portrayal of tormented parents is a clear touchstone for writer-director Gary Sinyor.
Jasmine Hyde holds the action together with a brilliant sense of timid charisma. She’s entirely believable and gripping as a mother torn to pieces by a horrible event that is implied to have arisen from her own negligence. The torment manifests in her panic attacks, which create a kaleidoscopic blurring in her eyes, communicated to the audience with some inventive and disorientating visual trickery from Sinyor. One scene, in which Hyde’s vision threatens to fall apart as she drives in the fast lane of a motorway, is fraught with real tension.
Hyde’s relationship with Richard Flood, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Irish contemporary Michael Fassbender, is complex and difficult. Flood questions all of his beliefs when faced with the possibility his son might be trying to reach him from beyond and this pushes Hyde, whose symptoms of grief are more physically obvious. Simon Cotton is a more unpredictable presence as Paul, who is initially charming, but becomes inscrutable as his relationship with Will gains a confrontational edge that wasn’t present before.
In the final act, a more conventional thriller narrative usurps the exploration of grief, so The Unseen lacks the sophistication of something like The Babadook, which proved to be a more complete allegory for the grieving process. The thriller twists, though, are elegantly written and illuminate some of the film’s murkier spots with total clarity. It’s not an entirely satisfying conclusion, but it is one that delivers on Sinyor’s carefully measured sense of eerie atmosphere.
Pop or Poop?
The Unseen is an enthralling British psychological thriller that uses innovative visual style to obscure its unfolding narrative until it is ready to pull the rug out from under the audience. Jasmine Hyde is a solid presence in the leading role and it’s easy for the audience to identify with her struggle, particularly given the intensity of her grief.
Its allegory feels a little incomplete, but the thriller narrative that replaces it is strong and faintly ridiculous enough that you leave the film mostly satisfied.
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