I wouldn’t call the 1933 James Whale directed The Invisible Man my favorite Universal monster movie, (that honor belongs to Bride of Frankenstein), but damnit if it isn’t second best. There have been a number of iterations of H.G.Wells story, some fun (Memoirs of an Inbisible Man), some ugly (Hollow Man), but unfortunately for the new film The Unseen, it may remain that way…
…With so many films in the Invisible Man sub-genre (is that a thing? Yeah, let’s call it a thing), it’s hard to stand out. Be recognized. Not look in the mirror and see nothing but a pair of shades and fedora looking back at you. Written/directed by Geoff Redknap, The Unseen follows Bob (Aden Young), a father who has become estranged from his daughter, Eva (Julia Sarah Stone). But Bob has bigger problems. Day by day, he is becoming more and more invisible for some unexplainable reason. Oh, and his daughter’s been kidnapped, so he doesn’t exactly have a lot of time to reconnect.
The Unseen has the kernels of a great interpretation of the whole invisibility thing, with a man who must reconnect with his daughter before he completely disappears. The theme here is pretty poignant, and one that actually resonates heavily with me. See, I recently lost my step-mom to cancer. It’s the first time I’ve ever personally watched someone waste away like that, and it’s a horror I don’t wish on anyone. The way in which Bob “disappears” is similar to the effects of this godforsaken disease. Rather than limbs fading away, whatever this shit is eats right through Bob. He’ll wake up one morning and discover that the skin on his cheek is gone, or a couple fingers look like they’ve been chopped off, or his ribcage is exposed. All of it looks painful as hell, and it’s in this area that The Unseen is most effective. Anyone who has gone through the trauma of slowly losing someone to a disease will relate to Bob and his plight, those who have to watch him suffer, and his deseperate effort to make sure Eva knows he loves her before whatever end is coming his way, happens. I did constantly find myself wondering why Bob would never think to see a freaking doctor, but that’s neither here nor there. We’ll pretend all the doctors have gone invisible, too.
This is first and foremost a body-horror film, at least in essence. A good chunk of the film is spent with Bob at a mirror or by himself, taking a good, hard look at the horror that is his randomly fading body. This is where The Unseen takes firm inspiration in the roots of classic horror and the “Invisible” films which have come before it, yet moves in a different direction by expressing the pain of the situation in a way most of these films haven’t. Hardcore horror fans will wish there were more practical FX (these scenes are mostly done with CGI), but beggars can’t be choosers. Redknap’s script can be a little inconsistent with Bob’s “transformation”. Sometimes he can barely stand up. Sometimes he’s a badass fighter, taking on a room full of tough guys at one point. His disease is horribly inconsistent, unexplained, and just plain strange. But it works. There’s a grittiness to The Unseen, replacing science labs and trench coats with brutal landscapes and dirty hoodies. All of this makes for what could’ve been a different sort of Invisible Man film. And then it all goes downhill.
Redknap has a great thematic core with this story involving Bob and Eva, yet whether it was because of studio concerns or Redknap’s own doing, the heart of that relationship is abandoned for an Invisible Man meets Taken scenario in which Bob spends half the film looking for Eva after she is kidnapped for an unknown reason. A reason which is never properly explained, though we can make assumptions. Looking for some kind of outside conflict, as if we need any more with Bob evaporating and losing his mind, Redknap’s script shoehorns in an unnecessary plot in which Bob is delivering a bear heart (yes, a fucking bear heart), for a drug dealer who ends up not being satisfied with the job. I never knew there was a black market for bear hearts. The more you know, right? This, and the other brief villains who show up, are mere distractions from the real story. Cut them all, and The Unseen is still the same tale at its core, but with more time to focus on Bob and Eva. The way it is, Bob goes the first 30-40 minutes without spending one minute with Eva, only to see her taken away once he does. The Unseen will have you feeling more hollow than Kevin Bacon, because there is so little of a relationship between these two, that it’s difficult to care despite the dilemma.
That’s The Unseen’s biggest problem: none of the conflicts in the film are strong. The themes are good. The effects are not great but could be worse. The performances are decent. But so many elements feel forced or unrealistic. One of the opening scenes in fact is Eva’s mother (Camille Sullivan) worried over Eva choosing travel over college, and that’s why Bob needs to come back into the picture. What? Who cares? Let the girl travel for a year! Whether it’s moments like a hospital claiming they can detain Bob for being “sick”, or the “revelation” as to why Bob is sick, so much of The Unseen feels unmotivated. We’re given the bare bones, but never the meat. Between Bob searching for Eva, and Bob trying to figure out what’s happening to him, this film has two conflicting A-plots, neither of which it spends enough time diving into to give the audience the full-emotional depth we need to buy into either one. Like Bob’s disease, Redknap’s script has more pieces missing than a faceless Mr. Potato Head, failing to hook the viewer for very long.
I really wanted to like The Unseen. The concept deals with real issues, and is a grimy retelling of the Invisible Man tale. But couple the above issues with some clunky editing and an unsatisfying resolution, and The Unseen is one better left unnoticed by your eyeballs. Your eyeballs will thank you.
The Unseen releases on VOD from Raven Banner Entertainment on February 26th.
By Matt Konopka