I was drawn to Unseen as a director because at the core of a fast-paced survival thriller, there was a story about an unlikely friendship between two women that ends up saving both of their lives. My own female friendships are truly the bedrock of my happiness and fulfillment in life even as an adult. Since kindergarten I’ve been collecting lifelong female friendships that continue to fuel me through this mad existence we call life.
Yoko Okumura, director
Unseen is almost a perfect film. Almost. It suffers from a few problems that we’ll delve into, but first, let’s talk about how amazing it is. Unseen tells the story of a woman drugged and abducted by her abusive ex-boyfriend. She is able to get free with a phone, but she breaks her glasses in the process. Unable to see, she ends up calling a stranger who, via video call, ends up being her eyes as she attempts to flee to safety.
The film gets so many things right. The first is the run time of the film. I often call out when a film is too short or too long, but, in this case, Unseen is perfect. It comes in at 76 minutes, shorter than some streaming episodes of your favourite shows. This is relatively short for a film, but sometimes it is all you need. In this case, Unseen takes you on a 76 minute roller coaster ride that is absolutely fantastic and delivers the entire story. They didn’t need to add filler because the story was solid, they didn’t need to add additional dialogue because the actors were brilliant and conveyed so much without even speaking. There were only a couple of reasons that this wasn’t a 5-star film, but length wasn’t one of them.
The second thing is definitely the casting. Jolene Purdy and Midori Francis were both fantastic. These women are absolute superstars that killed their performances. Purdy plays Sam, a convenience store clerk on the receiving end of the panicked call – she displays equal parts concern and inadequacy, and she is a pleasure to watch. While Emily (played by Midori Francis) is the one lost in the forest, without her glasses, and chased by her crazy ex, there are times where you are more concerned for Sam because of how well Purdy plays her. Francis, however, as Emily is equally amazing. Emily is terrified, alone, and nearly blind… but she’s also a doctor and able to use that to calm and focus herself. So, while she’s experiencing the worst day of her life, she’s able to keep Sam level and balanced… to keep her focused on getting Emily to safety. The pairing of these two women forms a picture perfect match.
The third thing this film gets right is the use of technology. Video calls in films aren’t new, but this is the first time I’ve seen a video call used this way and there were plenty of little things that really added to the situation. Battery life played a role, as it should in a film where someone is lost in the bush. The video quality was probably better than it should be, given the police response time was going to be “hours.” I’ve had video calls between two people in the city and haven’t had quality as good as they did. However, for the purposes of a movie, that higher quality is needed. There were two little pieces that I really appreciated when it came to technology. The first is that Emily has ear buds in from a morning run – something that they establish early on. This is important because otherwise a video call would be on speaker phone and make them easy to follow through the bush. The second is that Emily can’t see the screen, which is damaged, so she needs to use the front facing camera the entire time because she can’t navigate well enough to click the flip button.
With all of this excellence, it is hard to imagine what they got wrong… but there are a few little things. The first issue is an assumption on my part, but it feels reasonable. Whenever they show Emily’s point of view, we see that she is nearly blind… she can hardly see anything. Yet, her glasses at the start weren’t that thick. I would expect, even with modern technology, much thicker glasses than she was wearing. I wear glasses and my vision without them is significantly better than hers, yet I feel like my glasses, even with thin lenses, are thicker than the glasses she was wearing. I know that this is nitpicking… but as a glasses wearer, it just didn’t feel right to me. The second problem is something I enjoyed… the use of technology. A significant amount of time passes… time when the phone is in use with a video call, so the screen is constantly on. Emily explains that her phone was fully charged when she left her house in the morning to explain why she’s able to stay connected the entire time, but I’m not sure I buy it. From morning to night, let’s assume 10 hours minimum and a multi-hour video call. That is a significant amount of battery time… especially considering how far away from civilization she is… which likely means low signal, which would consume battery life even faster. None of these are major issues, particularly in a film that expects you to suspend disbelief, they aren’t even enough to drop this from the 5-star film that it could have been.
The reason I rated this 4.5-stars instead of 5-stars was because of the film pacing and bad decisions. The film is paced perfectly 95% of the time. Everyone reacts with urgency the majority of the time. However, when Sam has issues with the Slurpee machine in the convenience store, she doesn’t immediately unplug it… which takes her away from the phone more than it should have. Where was her sense of urgency here? Similarly, when Sam disagrees or is concerned about Emily’s next steps… she slows down and disagrees… delaying the inevitable by removing the urgency from the situation that we’re all feeling. How can Emily be in a place of so much danger and Sam wants to step back and discuss it? When you’re on the edge of your seat (and I was for much of this film), it angers you to see someone behave in such a stupid way. Now that I think about it, stupid might be the best way to describe so many of Sam’s choices. They are, simply put, bad decisions and I wonder if that is intentionally playing into stereotypes? The beautiful doctor in the terrifying situation is calm and level-headed, making rational choices despite her situation, while the drab convenience store clerk makes bad decisions and slows the process down. I didn’t think about this while I watched the film, but in retrospect it does feel like a conscious decision. The more I think about this, the more it makes sense. Anyone who has seen Jolene Purdy in other roles must realize how absolutely gorgeous she can be, which means that they put a lot of work into making her look like a run down, defeated convenience store cashier. Just like that, as I thought I was wrapping up the review, I have changed it to 5-stars…I will, however, leave the review as-is, so that you can see how my logic changed.
I disagree with the film being called a Horror Thriller… this felt to me like pure thriller, but I usually disagree with the concept of “horror thriller.” What I do know is that this film was a joy to watch and I highly recommend it.
Check out Unseen on Digital and On Demand on March 7 and on MGM+ in May.
Movie title: Unseen
Movie description: Two women form an unlikely connection when a depressed gas station clerk SAM (Purdy), receives a call from EMILY (Francis), a nearly blind woman who is running from her murderous ex in the woods. Emily must survive the ordeal with Sam being her eyes from afar using video call.
Date published: 2023-03-07
Director(s): Yoko Okumura, ,
Actor(s): Jolene Purdy, Midori Francis, Missi Pyle, Michael Patrick Lane, Nicholas X. Parsons, Brett Baker, Ren Hanami
White Knuckle Flick