The Unseen Movie Review
Written by Jeff Tolbert
Released byMonarch Home Entertainment
Written and directed by Geoff Redknap
2016, 108 minutes, Rated PG-13
Released on February 26th, 2019
Aden Young as Bob Langmore
Camille Sullivan as Darlene
Julia Sarah Stone as Eva
The Unseen is the story of Bob, a washed-up hockey player living somewhere in the northern wastes of Canada (I assume, based largely on his accent, though I guess it could also be parts of the north-central US). We quickly learn the salient details of Bob’s existence: his ex-wife Darlene lives with Bob’s daughter, as well as her new wife (it’s not clear if they’re married) in the “big city.” Bob lives in a shitty trailer in the northern wilderness. He sends Darlene child support checks, but has been essentially incommunicado for eight years. The reason for Bob’s disappearance from his family’s lives is that chunks of his body are literally disappearing.
The central conceit of The Unseen is that Bob is becoming invisible piece by piece, but not in the way you might expect. The condition afflicting Bob is like nothing so much as a skin rash: it affects areas seemingly at random, and it seems to work from the outside in; when an area is affected, it exposes his insides in some fairly gnarly ways. It looks like he’s rotting away, and apparently it causes him a great deal of both mental anguish and physical pain, to the extent that he contemplates suicide by throwing himself into one of the huge machines at the lumber mill where he works. He lives on booze and weed, presumably to kill the pain.
When his daughter Eva seems set to make a bad life decision, Darlene calls Bob and convinces him to drive down to see her. On the road, Bob has an episode and drives his truck into a ditch. He staggers to a diner and calls the only “friend” he has for help: his weed dealer. Instead of the stupid but basically nice kid who sells him weed, the supplier, Crisby, turns up, offering to fix Bob’s truck up if Bob will make a resupply run to the city for him. With pieces of himself vanishing with increasing frequency, Bob sets off to balance family obligations with his new role as a drug runner.
Initially there’s much to commend The Unseen, including some great ambient audio work during the scenes when Bob is in the mill. It’s well-shot and reasonably well-acted, and Bob is one of those down-on-his-luck tough-guys that manage to be sympathetic because they’re so gross and also suffering. The film is a little too obsessed with demonstrating how gritty it is, with Aden Young as Bob doing his best Christian-Bale-as-Batman-if-Batman-was-from-Toronto voice for the entire film, but this can be forgiven. There are people like this. In fact there are flashes of greatness here, from the novel take on invisibility to the generally high quality of the writing.
But there are flashes of mediocrity too, and also flashes of something that comes uncomfortably close to racism. The mediocrity comes in the form of some lackluster performances by the supporting cast, a few too many plot threads introduced in the second and third acts, and one or two odd editing decisions. In one instance Eva is with friends in an abandoned asylum. The scene transitions to Bob talking with Darlene at home, then another transition to the following morning. The next time we see Eva she’s in a cage, although we have not had any reason to suspect that she was in any actual danger until this very moment.
The flashes of quasi-racism come in the form of a Chinese apothecary, introduced fairly early on in a seeming throwaway establishing scene, which resurfaces in the final act as a front for an organ-smuggling operation (apparently human and animal organs are on offer). In fairness to the film makers, there is some real-world basis for the film’s depiction of a Chinese organ black market (although the linked articles only speak to organ-trafficking within China); but its rather sloppy incorporation into the film’s final movement, and the suspicious miasma hovering around the portrayal of traditional Chinese medicine in general, leave a bad taste in my mouth. This is mitigated somewhat by the fact that the woman who tends the shop seems to genuinely want to help Eva, and gives her some kind of tea that supposedly treats her condition (Eva has inherited the vanishing disease from Bob). But there are weirdly mixed messages here, and ultimately, the bad taste lingers.
In the end, The Unseen is worth a watch. It features generally good acting by the main cast, an interesting premise, and some cool effects—or, I guess, one cool effect, Bob’s weird vanishing disease, which gets worse and worse until its predictable culmination. The story is ultimately unsatisfying, and for a movie that relies on a very specific gimmick, this is especially egregious. But what’s good about it is good enough, and sometimes we have to be content with good enough.
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