Smartphones make horror films so much harder to write.
Being chased by a faceless monster? Call for help and wait for the police to arrive. “Yes, please follow my GPS signal before Freddy/Jason/Michael arrives … thank you!” And that flashlight app sure comes in handy.
It’s why some newer horror films are set in the analog age, while others fall back on the smartphone’s greatest enemy – bad cell reception.
“Unseen,” like the recent “See for Me,” embraces what the modern smart phone offers. We watch a woman use a stranger’s video call function to keep one step ahead of her crazed ex-beau. It’s far from perfect, and you keep expecting a woke lecture to interrupt the chase, but “Unseen” efficiently burns through its modest run time.
Jolene Purdy plays Sam, a down-on-her-luck gal working at a smelly convenience store in Florida. Her boss is cruel, the customers are worse and when she gets a strange phone call she’s anxious to hang up, and fast.
She doesn’t. Instead, she listens as a woman explains that her ex-boyfriend is stalking her, and she needs Sam’s help.
That’s Emily (Midori Francis) on the other end of the line, a med student who hooked up with a control freak named Charlie and may pay the ultimate price for it. Emily lost her glasses when she broke free from her ex’s remote cabin, and she’s practically blind without them.
She needs Sam to be her eyes, via video chat, to help her find a way out of the woods.
What a setup! “Unseen” takes full advantage of modern technology, warts and all. Sam’s battery life is waning, for example, and she must fend off customers while trying to save Emily’s life.
#horror – HNN – UNSEEN starring Midori Francis, Jolene Purdy, Missi Pyle, Michael Patrick Lane – On Digital and On Demand March 7, 2023 and On MGM+ May 2023 – https://t.co/QJIiGPkwGw pic.twitter.com/qLsPUYk0iU
— Horrornews.net (@HorrorNewsNet) February 11, 2023
Sam and Emily can’t help but bond during the ordeal, arguably the best part of a lean script from Salvatore Cardoni and Brian Rawlins. Sam’s life is far from perfect, and Emily fears she’ll die with serious regrets about not appreciating her hard-working Ma.
Michael Patrick Lane is under-developed as the villainous Charlie, but his presence keeps “Unseen” tense from the opening sequence.
Far better is Missi Pyle, a certified scene stealer doing what she does best as Sam’s nightmarish customer. She’s rude, and entitled and just might stop Sam from saving Emily.
Pyle’s character epitomizes “Unseen’s” coal-black humor. It’s not always a perfect tonal choice, but director Yoko Okumura keeps the energy level high enough to keep everything in order. The director also makes clever use of split-screen visuals, a comic-book sensibility rooted in the 21st century yet connected to pulp stories of yore.
The film’s woke bona fides are easy to spot. Pyle’s character is a rich, privileged white woman with fire power to spare (don’t ask). Charlie’s controlling nature is the patriarchy on full blast. And a few lines suggest woke is on the tip of the screenwriters’ tongues, like when Emily notes the teasing she endured over Mickey Rooney’s cartoonishly Asian “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” character.
Yes, because Gen Z types are very plugged into Rooney’s body of work.
“Unseen” never leans too far into those progressive bromides. The focus is the chase, the adventure and the legit bond between two souls who know they need each other to survive.
HiT or Miss: “Unseen” is sloppy, silly and sometimes teetering on woke. The bond between the key characters, and a terrific gimmick, keep everything right on track.