Thursday, March 02, 2023

Unseen, from Blumhouse

Those thin, fragile little smart phone power-plugs are not just annoying. They could cost lives—Emily’s life to be specific. The vision-impaired woman received a miss-dial from Sam, a total stranger with a beat-up and unreliable-looking phone, whom she must rely on to guide her away from her kidnapper in Yoko Okumura’s Blumhouse-produced Unseen, which releases Tuesday on VOD (and launches on MGM+ in May).

Sam’s life is in a bad place. She is deeply depressed and works for a complete jerk at a gator-themed gas station, in a region of Florida where that sort of thing looks normal. Emily is in a worse place. She has just been kidnapped by her abusive ex-boyfriend, Charlie, who intends to gaslight her back into a dysfunctional relationship—or suffer the violent consequences.

Somehow, she manages to escape, but her glasses are damaged in the brutal scuffle, leaving her natural vision too blurry to navigate the Upper Michigan wilderness outside Charlie’s cabin. She cannot see her phone’s screen, but she manages to return her last call: Sam’s hang-up. The completely freaked-out cashier reluctantly agrees to guide Emily via video-phone, very much like the visual assistance operator in
See for Me, but she must also deal with her crummy job and Carol, a customer from Hell, who could only be played by Missi Pyle.

The concept and execution of
Unseen are indeed very similar to See for Me, but it works even better because of the more colorful characters and the superior chemistry between Emily and Sam. Midori Francis and Jolene Purdy develop some terrific digital-foxhole rapport and both are appropriately earnest and vulnerable, conveying the urgency of their situation.

Pyle is basically a caricature as the unhinged Carol, but she is funny and definitely ups the stakes for Sam dramatically. Most of her sequences defy credibility, but the lunacy is impressive. Unfortunately, Michael Patrick Lane’s Charlie is a bland, completely disposable villain.

Fortunately, Okumura’s tight, tense execution compensates for the cardboard villain. The brisk pace and high stakes definitely keep viewers locked in. Having previously helmed the Kansas installments of
50 States of Fright, Okumura shows she can maintain a similarly effective mood and pacing at a feature-length running time.

has its flaws but Okumura’s thriller mechanics and her two co-leads are terrific. Besides See for Me, it would also pair up well with Searching, showing the suspenseful potential of modern communication technology. Recommended for fans of stalker-kidnapping thrillers, Unseen releases Tuesday (3/7) on VOD (and streams on MGM+ in May).