“I need you to be my eyes for me.”
A merger of multiple sub-genres within the horror/thriller mold, Yoko Okumura’s Unseen showcase how a unique and modern approach to a fairly ordinary concept can reap sizable rewards for all involved.
Sam (Jolene Purdy), a desolate employee of Gator Galore, a convenience store in Tallahassee, Florida, sits in the parking lot anxiously awaiting the start of her shift. Cell phone in hand, she seems unsure if the money is worth the stress. Visually defeated, she can’t hide her empty, melancholy look. We don’t know why, but she isn’t happy.
Meanwhile, Emily (Midori Francis) has just fought off her ex at a remote cabin in Michigan. Zip-tied and practically blind due to a broken pair of glasses, she slowly begins to feel her way through the woods. Outside of her toxic, abusive relationship, we know little about the ER doctor. But she’s in danger and cannot escape on her own.
In a desperate move for survival, Emily hits a recent phone number on her call log. Sam, now positioned behind the store counter, answers. And just like that, two unlikely worlds forge into one.
Undoubtedly shot on a micro-budget, Okumura’s feature-length directorial debut thrives on the power of its individual parts, all of which band together to form a larger, more cohesive picture. Highlighted by two stellar performances from Purdy and Francis, the film utilizes technological advancements to show our immense power to serve as a stranger’s saving grace.
Part horror, part thriller, Okumura is able to capture the grit and tone without the standard tropes that often plague the genre. The classic jump-scares, loud, screeching music, and moonlit set pieces are absent. Instead, most of this film takes place during the day, focusing on the trust required between strangers and the ripple effects felt from a suddenly absent sense.
Though the two stories play out in a somewhat typical fashion, Okumura’s ability to weave the two narratives together with seamless precision is undeniably impressive. Though the two halves contain different tones, the split screens never feel forced or rudimentary. Instead, they each serve a purpose, collectively pushing the narrative forward.
While Sam is dealing with an over-the-top, bitchy Karen (played beautifully by Missi Pyle), Emily unknowingly steps too far forward, tumbling down a bank at the edge of a stream. And when the ex (Michael Patrick Lane) catches up to his prisoner, face bloodied and wrapped in bandages, you can’t help but despise the man as Sam continues to shout directions from the phone lying haphazardly on the ground.
These seemingly random moments are trivial to the big picture, a nuance that sets the film apart. Granted, much like Sony’s Missing and Searching, countless plotholes present themselves. As a result, the film must be absorbed with a slight grain of salt. But even then, amid the story structure and grand finale, it is an enjoyable thrill ride that should propel Okumura into another category as she is sure to excel on larger projects with more adequate budgets.
*This film is available via VOD platforms.