In 1997 the Anderson family vanished from their home without a trace. No bodies were ever found. For 17 years the house has remained undisturbed... until now.
It’s interesting how you can examine a film as you’re watching it – and for most of the running time you’re able to say, “Well that’s pretty cookie-cutter” and then be genuinely surprised (and pleased) by the film’s ending.
You wouldn’t have to look very far in today’s spread of horror films available at every RedBox or on every VOD platform – to find a film with a “twist” or a “big reveal” – ever since The Sixth Sense; they’re everywhere. (Yes, that means we’ve been dealing with 18 years of this so-called “big reveal”).
And the new film The Unspoken easily fits that bill, with a little extra oomph to close things out – thus making this exercise in “cookie-cuttery” slightly more intriguing than you might first think.
Angela (Jodelle Ferland of The Cabin in the Woods and Silent Hill – she’s the poster girl) lives in a small mountain town with her widowed father (Lochlyn Munro of Freddy vs. Jason). Years ago, Angela’s mother was involved in a strange incident in a house known as “The Briar House” on the outskirts of the community. A family of four mysteriously disappeared from the house, with no trace. Angela’s mother was the family’s housekeeper – and what she saw that night in 1997 pushed her to eventual suicide. Angela’s now a teenager and has taken a baby-sitting gig for a woman named Jeanie (Pascale Hutton) and her mute son Adrian (Sunny Suljic). Thing is, they’ve just moved into “The Briar House” and Angela has been told time and again from her father, that she’s never to set foot in that awful place. Add in some drug-dealing teenagers who have hidden their stash in the newly-occupied house and you’ve got plenty of drama to mix in with the generous helpings of supernatural frights.
As our lead, Ferland does a fine job of drawing the audience in, but there’s not much in the performance which I would consider inspired. We like her enough to follow along, but it’s not as if the audience is jonesin’ to see her every move or take part in Angela’s every decision. For a lead role meant to carry the film, I would have liked a bit more. Not great, not terrible – sadly just a very middle-of-the-ground performance.
But the work of Hutton as Jeanie will most easily impress. I loved her no-nonsense and authentic approach to the role. It feels effortless and once you learn more about the character and her intentions as the story progresses, you’ll appreciate that ease all the more. There’s a lot to be learned about Jeanie and you’ll be very pleasantly surprised (see below). So her goody-two shoes mother has plenty of delicious and interesting layers.
Appearing as local law enforcement Officer Bower is the busy but underrated actor Neal McDonough (Minority Report and the television shows Legends of Tomorrow and Arrow) who always brings a great deal of cache and presence to his roles. Officer Bower is not the most developed character ever, but just having McDonough on your cast roster lends automatic quality. I’ve enjoyed his work since first seeing him in Star Trek: First Contact. And here he does a great job of bringing humanity to what is something of a throw-away role – the sign of a truly good actor. “There are no small parts, only small actors.”
The film is chalk full of “boo” moments, most of them semi-effective, but the fact that the filmmakers chose to use a common trick – not once, not twice, but thrice – further cheapens a tool which is already over-used in so many other films of this ilk. You’ll know it when you see it. It’s a close-up on a character as they turn to survey a room or investigate a corner, only to turn back – the camera following them – and of course, someone’s standing right there. Boo! Sigh. There’s always been talk that there’s nothing new or original in films today – and if you’re looking at this tired horror trick, I’d have to agree.
As for other specific jump scares, an early scene of a local handyman investigating an apparently-sacrificed animal in the nearby woods – totally took me by surprise. Sure, we’ve seen clues like this in tons of other horror flicks, but it went somewhere I didn’t expect and resulted in a nice jump and some great effects. So credit where credit is due.
The lesbian subplot was a welcome change from the norm. It’s never completely explored, and frankly, that would have been an extra bonus to see more of that blossoming and difficult relationship. I understand that LGBT stories are still mainly underused, but horror is a place where they could really exceed expectations. Horror has a large gay following and I feel – a very open audience (for the most part). It felt like there might be the slightest bit of hesitation on the part of the filmmakers – to expand on this “taboo” subject. Of course, the relationship is not the central part of the story, but its inclusion is lovely – if all too brief and underdeveloped.
The little button following the film’s conclusion was really inspired, and as soon as the scene began, I knew exactly where it was going. It’s a laugh-out-loud moment – truly meant for knowledgeable and geeky Horror Freaks everywhere.
Even with all of the great things (and there’s a lot), the film is nothing particularly masterful or memorable. I’ve experienced few films which are able to come back from horrible missteps in the story. But to have a semi-enjoyable, only mediocre film provide such a mind-blowing and entertaining ending? Well, that’s kind of unheard of. Despite reservations, I’ll still suggest you take a gander.
The Unspoken comes to us from Executive Producer Steven Schneider (the Paranormal Activity and Insidious franchises) and is now available on DVD/VOD.