the_unseen_1200_1800_81_sWhen we think of invisibility-themed movies, the first things that tend to pop into our heads are all those showcases for visual effects wizardry which, nine times out of ten, sadly tend to rely on technical trickery to esconce their pabulum plots. Sitting down to watch writer/director Geoff Redknap’s directorial debut THE UNSEEN, and in the light of his teeth-cutting days as a Hollywood makeup artist and SFX technician, I took it for granted that I was in for yet another hollow (pardon the pun), effects-laden vehicle. I couldn’t have been more wrong and this newfangled take on invisibility tropes does for H.G. Wells’ legacy what Bernard Rose’s FRANKENSTEIN did for Mary Shelley’s classic tale this time last year.

Eschewing time-honored tales of scientists cultivating state-of-the-art serums, the “slowly-turning-invisible-man” syndrome our central character, Bob Langmore, suffers here is a rare congenital anomaly slowly eating away at him like a cancer; both physically and psychologically. This fresh spin paves the way for a much more emotionally character-driven premise of a man struggling, not only with his illness, but with his own demons for having abandoned his wife and daughter out of his own feelings of guilt for reasons best left unexplained for the sake of not spoiling too much. If that wasn’t enough, the poor chap ends up having to force himself out of his self-induced life of self-pity and solitude and banding with the wrong side of the law to save his estranged daughter from a rebellious streak, who, just to add salt to the wounds, ends up getting kidnapped by persons unknown.

Focusing on a much more grounded premise than we’re used to when it comes to invisibility-themed pics, the result is quite the slow burner, and it really needs to be so as to give the central characters the time and space to breathe. This is particularly the case with protagonist, Aden Young who fastidiously navigates between the cautiously restrained and uncontrollably eruptive sides to his character, wrestling to keep his secrets and anguish at bay until his daughter’s kidnapping unleashes the mean streak he’s been unhealthily harboring for so long.

Julia Sarah Stone puts in an equally heartfelt performance as Bob’s daughter Eva, dealing with a “different” variety of teenage angst than your everyday stripling and struggling to fit in as best she can. Young and Stone don’t share a great deal of camera time but when they do, they provide the film’s most sincere and affecting moments. I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t also mention the impassioned supporting role put in by Ben Cotton as the local drug hoodlum, Crisby, who twists Bob’s desperate arm into muling for him.

Without over-divulging on the ins and outs of the film’s serpentine narrative, the subplots involving the daughter’s kidnapping, an ambivalent commentary on traditonal oriental medicines and healing practices and Bob’s skirmishes with the seedy criminal underworld felt a tad frustratingly unexplicit at times. Considering the film clocks in at almost two hours, one can only suspect a few body parts vanished in the editing process for pacing’s sake. Nonetheless, most uncertainties are tied up pretty niftily at the end thanks to a cunning curveball climax that I have to admit I didn’t see coming and which does shed some light on most of the preceding noggin scratching sequences.

Whilst most of THE UNSEEN’s appeal is fruit of such authentic characters and an intimate and familiar setting, as sparingly used as the special effects are, when they eventually barge into the frame in a big way they will blow your mind. As I said, Bob’s body is slowly being devoured by some form of chronic wasting disease so, rather than your usual teacup moving from A to B of its own accord, we get some inventively tailored invisibility effects that are much more akin to Eli Roth’s CABIN FEVER or the aforementioned FRANKENSTEIN, evoking a much more disturbingly palpable terror.

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Redknap’s brainchild is beautifully elevated by Stephen Maier’s visually stunning cinematography, replicating that particular brand of dark allure that fans of TV shows like “The Killing” and “Durham County” will instantly acknowledge and appreciate.

Whilst the notion of a slow-burning, character-driven invisible man movie might not resonate with those of you aching for more of an effects-laden, action-packed outing a la HOLLOW MAN, the thriving tension and on the nose performances are sure to earn your undivided attention. And let’s face it, special effects fare with as much substance as THE UNSEEN are seldom seen nowadays – something which speaks volumes for this first-time feature helmer, particularly given his proven partiality for previous special effects extravaganzas.

Bob might be fading into oblivion but there’s not a doubt in my mind that THE UNSEEN will be making appearances at festivals left, right and centre following its debut at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival.

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