A boy dies in an awful, nightmarish accident – likely caused by his mother, Gemma (Jasmine Hyde); his parents struggle with the aftermath, each in their own way. The father, Will (Richard Flood) mourns openly, while Gemma becomes almost blank, and overly pragmatic. She hastens to move on, but suddenly develops a disconcerting condition: at times of heightened emotion, her vision blurs and she becomes temporarily blind. A stranger, Paul (Simon Cotton), presumably a neighbour, takes her to hospital, when she has her first attack. Paul, from a distance, looks like Gemma’s husband – similar build, hair, clothes. Even more so at times when Gemma’s vision blurs. The camera, at those times, shows what Gemma sees; a hallucinatory view of the world which then cuts to black.
Paul, a friendly, unassuming man, gets increasingly involved in the couple’s life. When Gemma and Will’s luxurious and somewhat impersonal home starts to feel oppressive, Paul offers the couple his country get-away, in the Lake District. It turns out to be another immaculate, luxurious, freshly refurbished property, on the same grounds as Paul’s own mansion. There’s a substantial first aid kit in a drawer, in an immense, bare kitchen, but no mobile phone signal, and no wi-fi. As Will jokes unkindly at some point: no wi-fi, and no wifey. It seems Paul’s girlfriend has left him recently, and she is not coming back. There is an ominous sense of disquiet.
Gemma, Will and Paul co-exist in a barren retreat, a world lacking almost entirely the presence of other people. Will grieves, and yearns to return home. He misses the sound of his son’s voice – he could hear it in their house, after the child’s death. Gemma dismisses this. Will goes home, back to the voice of his absent son. Gemma stays on, oblivious to the increasing number of anomalies around her. She then also hears her child’s voice. The tension ramps up.
This survival thriller written by Gary Sinyor (Leon the Pig Farmer, Solitaire for 2) starts from a compelling premise. The death of a child, and the grief that follows – a grief which distracts Gemma and Will from something else: an imminent threat to their relationship, and to their lives. There are ingenious plots twists. Gemma’s blindness attacks provide visual interest as well as key turning points in the story. Paul’s hobby, listening to birdsong with sophisticated audio equipment, is revealed to have other, perhaps nefarious, uses.
There is a formal neatness to the locations which is echoed by the camerawork, and a certain coldness to the characters; anxiety and also a sense of detachment pervade the tale. It is almost impossible to read the characters’ underlying emotions or motivations – it is more tell than show. If it is understood that Gemma and Will love each other, it is mainly because they say so.
After stark moments of horror, and some terrifying setbacks, the final scene is a well-heeled picture of domesticity, back at home in the large, neat London kitchen. Two very large glasses of red wine feature prominently on the outsize kitchen island. Is this a happy end, or the prelude to a further nightmare?
Director & Writer: Gary Sinyor
Cinematographer: Luke Palmer
Cast: Jasmine Hyde, Richard Flood, Simon Cotton, Derek Horsham, Sushil Chudasama
The Unseen opens in UK cinemas on 15th December 2017
Nadia Bee is a writer and filmmaker, she tweets as @NadjaBee