“Unseen” looked and felt a lot like last years “See For Me”, with a familiar presentation just equipped with a different direction and gimmick. If I had to choose between the two, I’d lean more towards this one but even that would honestly be a double edged sword.
I found some things to appreciate: the overall presentation is one that is relatively small scale as modern day cyber thrillers are already tricky enough to nail already but as this is a minimalist plot structure, the implications set do carry some stakes.
Sam and Emily are down-to-earth enough to warrant likability points and sure, the ancillary characters may be too over the top but they do much the personalities of certain……Karen’s. Kudos to the cast for taking what was given and elevating it as far as they could. I don’t mind the desaturated visual aesthetic here, it’s buoyed by very stylish editing choices, a garish and lurid production design that highlights the mindset and situations the characters are in, and clocking in at an hour and 16 minutes, the pace the movie sets itself at is very zippy but done with expeditious efficiency.
And of course, the writing and directing both work in conjunction with each other. Yoko Okumura’s direction bleeds frustration and anger; taking a lot of interesting plotlines with widely varying tones and gets as much mileage out of these parameters as possible with a voice that feels frustratingly taut. But it probably wouldn’t have worked as well if Salvatore Cardoni and Brian Rawlins’s script didn’t place that point of view through a lens that’s easy to relate to.
One of the factors that I love about this story from the offset is that not only does it know exactly what it wants to be but in doing so, knows when to tow the line and when to pull back; it never overstays its welcome no matter how angry it feels. What we have here outside the guide-for-survival formula is a that not-so-subtlety takes aim at casual racism, gaslighting and toxic white privilege and as absurd as some of the presentation comes across as, it does still develop a hateful and sadly recognizable tension that can distract audiences from how the central idea of this movie really shouldn’t work. It’s the chemistry between the two leads that hold most of this story together and make it easier to breeze through amongst the litany of decent to questionable choices.
The way this story is carried out from scene to scene feels reminiscent of someone very angry at their current circumstances but is self-composed enough to not blow it out of proportion, which probably works for the best. Some of it feels like whiplash compared to other horror films out there and it doesn’t even try to hide how generic it comes off as but again, it never tries to be anything more than what it presented itself as and doesn’t stray from it.
Speaking of whiplash, that is a common thing in this film that it struggles with occasionally. Emily’s plight, for example, is put on the back burner a lot to focus on Sam’s rather less credible situation; it hardly manages to produce the tension it should have, and halts momentum a few times even when it feels natural. It’s a bit heavy on exposition (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t), the dialogue is fairly basic (50-50 chance of working or not applies also) and I never pictured the film as a comedy in the slightest.
Not to mention, as much as I like the cinematography here, I don’t believe it took full advantage of the production design as it possibly could’ve.
Both films stories have their own separate strengths and weaknesses that bleed into each other. See For Me’s story doused itself in a surprisingly subtle stroke of metaness that mostly deviates from the Wait Until Dark formula but eventually dips back into the well of most home-invasion tropes. This one is somehow both empowered by the simplicity of its absurd plot-threads and technical elements while being inconvenienced by them at the same time; they all serve a purpose when meshed together but feel slightly adrift when taken on their own.
It is up for interpretation at the end of the day which one of these you prefer. So do with that as you will.