Film Review: Unseen (2023)

Year: 2023

Runtime: 76 minutes

Director: Yoko Okumura

Writers: Salvatore Cardoni, Brian Rawlins

Actors: Jolene Purdy, Midori Francis, Michael Patrick Lane, Missi Pyle, Ren Hanami

By Tom Moore

Director Yoko Okumura’s feature debut, “Unseen,” defines “doing a lot with a little” as her strong direction, two incredible central performances, and one killer premise all come together for a highly engaging and entertaining thrill ride.

“Unseen” features a great modern horror premise as it follows Florida gas station clerk Sam (Jolene Purdy) who attempts to help a Michigan-based woman named Emily (Midori Francis) escape her murderous-ex Charlie (Michael Patrick Lane) through video call after Emily is left partially blind. The film’s use of modern technology to craft this unique thriller premise is fantastic and it takes great avenues in constantly ramping up the tension. While Emily deals with trying to navigate seemingly endless woods, Sam has her own issues at work that come in the form of a snobby wealthy woman (Missi Pyle) and running into tech problems. Admittedly, the other characters in Sam’s story are a little tough to take seriously and can break the tension because of how ridiculously aggressive they are. But they still help drive the tension in film’s final act and the grounded nature of “Unseen’s” story is what makes it so thrilling.

There’s always this lingering fear that something is going to cut their call and leave Emily on her own or that Charlie is just going to suddenly catch Emily. There are some great obstacles that Sam and Emily run into that feel real and the way that Sam uses internet searches to navigate Emily and help her break her restraints fits the tech mindset of the film. Frankly, it’s just refreshing how smart Sam and Emily generally are in their situations. When problems arise like Sam’s phone slowly dying or Emily taking charge towards stopping Charlie, they think logically in a way that makes them relatable and likeable.

Okumura’s direction and vision for the storytelling also elevate the thrills and overall viewing experience. The way the frame is split to show Sam and Emily doing similar actions at the same time creates some really awesome-looking shots and more engaging movement. It also helps keep their separate stories connected and ramps up the tension when both are shown to be in trouble at the same time. Plus, the way that Okumura captures Sam and Emily’s relationship makes you care about them and showcases how strong Purdy and Francis’ performances are.

In some of the quieter moments of their journey, Sam and Emily take the time to get to know each other better and it helps establish good character arcs for them. Emily is able to show Sam that she’s more capable and confident than she realizes, and Sam is able to open Emily up about her fractured relationship with her mother (Ren Hanami). Their personal arcs feature some deeply emotional surprises, like Sam’s story about her own mother, and one sequence of Emily nearing her breaking point will have viewers on the verge of tears. Given the film’s under 80-minute runtime, it’s honestly impressive how much Okumura makes you care about these characters and the performance help make Sam and Emily very personal. Both Purdy and Francis are just flawless in their performances and make Sam and Emily incredibly likeable and engaging characters.

Because of how strong the performances and direction are, “Unseen’s” central narrative really has your heart on its hooks and it’s hard not to feel completely wrapped in the emotion and thrills of the story. Viewers will constantly be left on edge by Emily’s escape story and be just as paranoid and worry-filled as she is blindly running through the forest. With each obstacle that’s presented, viewers will feel more engrossed with how Sam and Emily try to maneuver through it and be thrilled by how much the intensity ratchets up. Best of all, the finale is absolutely immaculate with it providing audiences with a chaotic end that feels warranted given everything that’s going on and thoroughly fulfilling with Sam and Emily’s fates. There’s even a great little final story beat shown that ties into why Sam accidentally called Emily in the first place, and it results in a tender moment in Sam’s arc that hits well and feels like one last tug at the heartstrings before the credits roll.

“Unseen” is a total hidden gem that no viewer should sleep on as the strengths of its wildly engaging premise are matched and elevated by some surprisingly emotional character arcs, great direction from Okumura, and excellent performances from Purdy and Francis to make for a captivating watch.

4.5 stars

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