Unseen requires a lot of early buy-in from viewers willing to invest in its premise. Those that do are going to be rewarded with an unconventional, unpredictably wild ride.
Emily (Midori Francis, Ocean’s 8) awakens to find her ex-Charlie (Michael Patrick Lane) drugged and bound her with zip ties. Charlie seems to think this is the best way to rekindle their relationship hoping Emily will rediscover some feelings from him playing a video of her singing to him after he made some food for her.
Shockingly, he’s amazed when this crazed effort doesn’t work, and Emily fights him off. Emily’s escape isn’t without casualties though namely her glasses. Thanks to whatever Charlie doped her up with, Emily is unable to make out much besides hazy, foggy images.
Director Yoko Okumura goes heavy on the initial dose of disorientation in an effort to have the viewer experience Emily’s perspective. It’s a bit much early on, but Okumara wisely reins that approach in to let the story breathe easier.
Emily does manage to snag her cell phone during her escape, but she’s essentially blind and can’t work out any numbers after a fruitless call with 911.
A random blind dial gets her through to Sam (Jolene Purdy, WandaVision), a gas station convenience clerk who’s used to being treated like a doormat by her boss and rude customers.
With Charlie in close pursuit and her vision terribly compromised, Emily has to rely on Sam to be her eyes as she navigates through a hazard-filled forest.
Unseen’s concept is similar to the underappreciated See For Me where the potential victim’s fate lies in the hands of a virtual stranger. Split screens prove an easy way to illustrate the conversation while showcasing both Emily and Sam’s reactions in real time.
Screenwriters Salvatore Cardoni and Brian Rawlings aren’t afraid to deviate from the norm thriller tropes. They craft genuinely funny interactions with Emily and Sam in a way that comes off natural instead of trying too hard to inject comedy to the script.
The exchanges with Sam and Emily are well done as both find themselves in the roles of motivator and despondent participant over the course of the film.
That’s also credit to the strong performances from Francis and Purdy, who elevate already competent material to sell this unlikely codependent bond.
And it was refreshing to see a thriller with two leads of Japanese American descent portrayed in a non-stereotypical manner.
Unseen is a Blumhouse Television production and has a fresh, exciting premise as fellow Blumhouse efforts Get Out, Happy Death Day and Freaky.
The characters come off real with logical responses to bizarre scenarios. Granted, the nature of the plot forces some unavoidable tropes that just have to be covered to properly tell the story.
There’s no workaround for why an even partially drugged Emily won’t just call Siri or whatever version of her phone’s carrier to work around not seeing her screen properly.
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And as always in these stalker films whenever the woman gets the advantage over her attacker/stalker, Emily opts against finishing him off or otherwise incapacitating him so he can’t continue following her.
Tackling those issues in a different manner takes away all the suspense and fun of the film so they’re minor inconveniences that must be included.
If there’s a sticking point to the film, it’s Sam’s subplot where she deals with a menace of her own in Carol, a condescending rude customer (Missi Pyle), who continually puts Sam’s guidance efforts in jeopardy.
Okumura gives these interactions an intentionally over the top tone but manages to pull back just before they get too obnoxious.
There’s some nice twists along the way with believable scenarios and outcomes for Emily’s extended game of keep away. The Sam/Carol interactions become increasingly less realistic, but Okumura balances the conflicting tones well.
Unseen starts off somewhat haywire, but eventually finds its footing and vision to make for an effective and satisfying thriller.
Rating: 8 out of 10