Grief can be a difficult thing to capture accurately on film. Most actors aim for Sean Penn in Mystic River but it can very easily turn into a sobbing, melodramatic B plot from an episode of EastEnders. Thankfully The Unseen captures the feeling perfectly thanks to Jasmine Hyde’s measured performance and some assured directing from Gary Sinyor. After such a well executed beginning, however, I was left disappointed when the film descended into a horror/thriller out of nowhere, which cheapened the emotional resonance it had previously built up.
The premise is simple; a well off couple’s young son dies in a tragic accident. As an after-effect of the trauma, Gemma (the mother) begins to sporadically lose her sight whenever she is overcome with grief and guilt. A stranger named Paul helps her when she loses her sight in the middle of the street. After he befriends the couple, he suggests that it would be good for them to get out of the city and stay in a guest house he has in the serene Lake District. It is a generous offer but, while at the guest house, Gemma’s husband, Will, instantly distrusts Paul and verbally harasses him after getting drunk. As the film unfolds, it is revealed that Will’s suspicions are not unfounded.
The script, written by Sinyor, does many things right at the start of the film. His directing, likewise, is also very effective. One memorable moment I recall is the jump cut from Will and Gemma’s panicked reactions at their son’s death (“The Flower Duet” from the opera “Lakme” sublimely plays over the scene) to their downbeat, silent stillness after the funeral. The bluntness of this cut is devastating, making the audience feel the characters disbelief and pain. The shots in the Lake District also create a nice sense of dread. Everything becomes too open, wide and empty. After spending much of the film previously in a city environment, we are thrown into a quiet landscape where it’s just the three main characters and their thoughts.
It is a shame then, after all the film has going for it, that it uses its quiet, haunting menace to become something of a traditional thriller with a seemingly tacked on ending. I was constantly wondering if Gemma and Paul would pursue a romantic relationship and the interesting repercussions that that could have on the trio’s dynamic. For much of the film there seems to be an atmosphere created when the two characters are alone with each other (especially when Will becomes increasingly erratic and absent).
This film is still worth a watch, despite its pitfalls and depressing subject matter. The cinematography brilliantly captures an underlying menace and the three principle actors deliver some fine performances. I only wish the filmmakers had more faith in the engrossing drama that the film could have been.
Written by Josh Lambie – Student Pages Student Writer