Asian American women receive representation in this lean comedic thriller.
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The title “Unseen” (on VOD beginning Tuesday, March 7 before being available on MGM+ in May 2023) has multiple meanings. It obviously applies to one of our heroines Emily (Midori Francis) who’s inconveniently without sight. It could also apply to our other heroine Sam (Jolene Purdy) who works a thankless job in a gator-themed Florida gas station. It likely also applies to the representation … or lack thereof … felt by two Asian American actresses/characters as well as their Asian American director (Yoko Okumura). With more movies like this weekend’s Oscar Best Picture frontrunner “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and “Unseen” representation will hopefully be less of an issue for this often underserved demographic.
Emily awakens in a remote Michigan cabin belonging to her ex-boyfriend Charlie (Michael Patrick Lane), who’s drugged and kidnapped her. Charlie’s an abusive, gaslighting son of wealth/son of a bitch who insists the couple reconcile … or else. Emily, a smart and resourceful doctor, fights Charlie off and flees into the forest. In the process she breaks her glasses rendering her nearly blind.
Emily calls 911 on her cell and asks the operator to video chat to better aid her. The operator says this is against protocol and refuses to break the rules. Emily blindly dials another number in her phone. This number belongs to Sam, who accidentally called Emily a few days prior. Sam’s working a shift at the aforementioned Florida gas station. She’s contending with her abusive boss Isaac (Nicholas X. Parsons), a broken Slurpee machine, a Karen from hell called Carol (Missi Pyle) and a dwindling cell battery all while attempting to assist Emily in traversing wooded terrain to escape her evil ex.
“Unseen” is a lean comedic thriller (it clocks in at a scant 76 minutes) with a lot on its mind and style to spare. It celebrates female friendship and condemns the radical right. (Carol and her husband Carl (Brett Baker) call to mind those a-hole St. Louis lawyers who infamously pointed guns at protesters.) Okumura, making her feature directorial debut, seems to draw from many sources stylistically. The gator-themed gas station has neon hues reminiscent of Gregg Araki’s work. There’s so much split screen employed it’d make Brian De Palma blush.
The script by Salvatore Cardoni and Brian Rawlins is a tad thematically schizophrenic at times, but the humor and horror intermingle successfully more often than not. Francis and Purdy under Okumura’s direction elevate the material at almost every turn. Their Emily and Sam are hugely likable and easy to root for, which effectively escalates the tension. Pyle, a gifted comedic actress best known for “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” strongly supports the picture’s stars as the hilariously hissable Carol.
“Unseen” reminded me a bit of the early Chris Evans vehicle “Cellular” with a dash of John Hyams’ 2020 thriller offering “Alone” thrown in for good measure, but it’s admittedly better than both of these movies. It might be a little hard to access (I don’t know how many folks order flicks on VOD or have MGM+?), but it’s certainly worth seeking out and could prove to be a calling card for the talented trio of Okumura, Francis and Purdy. Don’t let this one go unseen!