For a film in production for over a decade, writer and director Gary Siynor’s passion project The Unseen arrives rather disappointingly on the British horror scene. Exploring a married couple’s bereavement, the film traverses narrative space between the psychological, spiritual and physical. Although boasting a brilliant performance by female lead Jasmin Hyde and a fascinating study into the terrors of grief, there is a frustrating sense of confusion in the film’s inability to claim a singular genre identity.
Gemma (Hyde) and Will Shields (Richard Flood) lead a perfect life; they’re comfortable in their stylish, spacious house with their beautiful child, boast envious careers and enjoy a loving marriage. But a set of accidental circumstances causes tragedy to strike, and both their relationship and their sanity are immediately tested. Gemma’s physical reaction to the couple’s grief is the rare panic attack diagnosis ‘amaurosis’, causing an increasingly dangerous loss of sight. A doctor, upon inspection, patronisingly asks ‘could she be malingering?’, suggesting the short periods of hysteria may be psychologically induced. Will responds spiritually, adamant visions and noises he experiences are real and attempts to find religious explanations. Concerned for their relationship, the couple agrees to stay with old friend Paul (Simon Cotton) in his renovated cottage in the Lake District, convinced the peaceful countryside will be of help. But, as to be expected, darker threats arise, and the three characters are forced to begin questioning their relationship and trust.
Sinyor illustrates grief, a concept unimaginable to those who have not experienced it, through the integrity of his visual approach and the realistic narrative. With 12 years’ production, the crew’s research has provided viewers with a film exploring the psychological, spiritual and physical effects induced by prolonged grief – specifically through the loss of a child – in a way which is neither sensationalist nor overdramatic. A particularly effective technique is Gemma’s panic attacks, with the camera mimicking her loss of vision, forcing audiences to physically experience her temporary blindness. Although, admittedly, the technique becomes frustrating towards the film’s ending, this makes it all the more powerful by physically showcasing the debilitating nature of bereavement. What’s more, Sinyor accepts sections of the film may be slightly unengaging for the sake of justice to a sensitive subject, such as the naturalistic silences experienced during sex sequences and conversations between the couple. The low-budget production value (common to British Independent horror films such as James Watkin’s Eden Lake and Ben Wheatley’s Kill List) creates a palpable sense of realism, with Gemma and Will conveying an aching in each sequence.
But, unfortunately, the film’s combination of a variety of plausible explanations for the occurrences creates an overload in the narrative. Although towards the denouement it singles one as the main culprit, the choice doesn’t feel the most satisfying. Well worth the watch for Hyde’s superb acting and the interesting camera techniques and filming locations – just don’t expect to be wowed by the final act.
Director: Gary Sinyor
Writer: Gary Sinyor
Cast: Richard Flood, Simon Cotton, Jasmine Hyde
Runtime: 108 minutes
The Unseen is out on DVD and digital download from the 12th February.