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Film review: The Unseen

Anne Joseph finds a domestic thriller lacking in scariness and surprises.

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The death of a child, parental bereavement and a tale of obsession form the basis of writer/director Gary Sinyor’s (Leon the Pig Farmer) mediocre, psychological thriller. This low budget film, which has allegedly taken 12 years to reach completion, has some tense, unexpected and truly terrifying moments but it lacks much in the way of intrigue or subtlety.

Gemma and Will (Jasmine Hyde and Richard Flood) are devastated when their toddler son drowns in their basement pool. Their profound grief manifests itself psychologically and physically, turning Will towards faith and madness — believing that he can hear his son’s voice speaking to him from his bedroom — while Gemma experiences panic attacks that result in temporary blindness.

She is alone at home when it first happens and she runs into the street in a panic. She is taken to hospital by a passer-by, ex-pharmacist Paul (Simon Cotton). A relationship quickly develops between the three and Paul offers the grieving couple his Lake District guest-house as a place for some respite and solace. But their psychological problems intensify, as does Paul’s obsequious behaviour.

Gemma’s loss of vision is cleverly transmitted, as the audience experiences the same blur and distorted images. It is a powerful device but unfortunately Sinyor overplays it, lessening the impact. In fact, there is much that is over-emphasised to the point of screaming obviousness, including the water trope and Paul’s insistence that he just wants to help. Even the heartbreaking “I love you, Mummy” recording, made by Gemma and Will’s son for his teddy bear, is repeated too many times.

The central couple work reasonably well together and Will’s pain, in particular, is devastating to watch. However, their sense of isolation, emotional and physical — most of the plot takes place in a remote Lake District setting — is communicated more by virtue of the film’s small cast rather than by wholly convincing performances. Although there is certainly more than a whiff of mystery about Paul, the suspense could have been cranked up and tightened. A lot is left unexplored — such as his absent wife — and his motives are unclear.

You know where The Unseen is going but it takes forever to get there, largely due to the drawn-out second act. In comparison, it gallops towards the end with a couple of nicely turned plot twists. But for a psychological thriller, it should surprise, thrill and scare more than it does.

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