24 July 2016 | gavin6942
One of 2016's Best
A man (Aden Young), who years earlier mysteriously abandoned his family and isolated himself in a small northern Canadian town, returns for one last chance to reconnect with his troubled daughter (Julia Sarah Stone). When she goes missing, he risks everything to find her, including exposing the fact that he is becoming invisible.
The marketing on this film presents it as "a modern retelling of the 'Invisible Man' story", which is simultaneously true and also a bit of a red herring. This does remind us that historically the Invisible Man is sort of the redheaded stepchild of the Universal Monsters. He is never as celebrated as Dracula or Frankenstein, and even in the various toy lines you're more likely to find the Metaluna Monster than a Claude Rains figure. Among remakes and rip-offs, the only film that really comes to mind is "Hollow Man", which committed cinematic suicide with its abysmal sequel.
Now, "The Unseen" does have an invisible man, so the marketing isn't wrong. But there is a key difference here: the lead character's invisibility is really more of a subplot, something in the background. Sure, he has to deal with it day in and day out, but the real thrust of the story is the man's attempt to reconnect with his daughter, which involves him working both with and against drug dealers, an underground Chinese pharmacy and some other shady characters.
The strength of the plot comes from writer-director Geoff Redknap's bold decision to never actually explain the cause of the invisibility. We are left to infer that it is some sort of genetic disorder that is passed down through the generations. But how many generations back does it go? Was some sort of environmental factor a root cause? We don't know, and again, this only makes the tale a stronger story – because just as with many things in life, answers are not always forthcoming.
Although Redknap has previously dabbled in directing, he is best known for his career in effects and makeup. You may not have heard of him (behind-the-scenes crew never get the love they deserve), but a quick search will reveal that you've seen his work dozens of times. Most notably, you will find he worked on "The X-Files", both in its original run and its more recent reboot. I say "notably" because if you were to compare the tone of "The Unseen" to anything, it would be to one of the better "X-Files" episodes. Most likely this is just a coincidence, but perhaps not.
The direction is as solid as the script, and while I presume this was a lower budget film, it never comes across as such. Everything seems top notch, not the least of which are the effects. Hollywood hit a high water mark in 1993 with "Jurassic Park" and has grown increasingly lazy, with the SyFy Channel pumping out low-grade movies-of-the-week that feature creatures who look like awful cartoons. I'm looking at you, Roger Corman and Jim Wynorski. The folks working on "The Unseen" are pushing back. While the effects in this film could have looked like a cheesy green-screen job, the tech crew instead went all out and made it look about as real as possible for such a fantastic theme. Skin invisible allowing us to see inside? Oh yeah, we got that.
Aden Young (KILLER ELITE, RECTIFY) gives a dynamite performance, and if he wasn't noticed before, he will be now. Every second of the movie has him aching, inching forward with his life, struggling and creating tension. Young is the heart and soul of this film. Likewise, Julia Sarah Stone (THE KILLING, WET BUM) has already made a name for herself, but this may be her big breakout role if she hasn't already reached that stage. She has a strong screen presence and a very distinct look that sets her apart from the crowd. Her youthful, almost fragile persona in "The Unseen" is the perfect contrast for Young's dark and brooding, distant father. To say I was captivated would be an understatement.
Although "The Unseen" was only the first film of dozens I've had the privilege of watching for the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival, it set a high bar. For the next few weeks, everything has been and will continue to be measured with Redknap, Young and Stone.