Sympathetic monsters are simultaneously tragic and terrifying. Take George Waggner’s THE WOLF MAN or James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN. Neither monster chose their fate. They were both thrust into this confusing world of horror, and are forced to deal with the repercussions. In both these examples the “monster” is not the most monstrous character in the film. Hordes of mindless villagers posse together to track them down and kill them, ignoring the creators as the true monsters.
Another classic horror monster whose legacy is as heartbreaking as it is unsettling is THE INVISIBLE MAN. Originally brought to screen by Whale, the concept of losing one’s physical identity has been revisited in THE UNSEEN. Ignoring the story and creation myth of Whale’s film, THE UNSEEN instead focuses on the physical and psychological effects of slowly disappearing, with mixed results.
Directed by Geoff Redknap, THE UNSEEN focuses on the effect of a disappearing father, in both the literal and metaphorical sense. Bob (Aden Young) is living a grumpy, solitary life in northern Canada as a logger. He is gruff and direct with his coworkers, but gets the job done, so they cannot complain too much. When his estranged daughter, now a teenager, begins rebelling back home, his ex-wife calls him to get the support she needs to get their daughter back on track.
Throughout this family drama we are slowly introduced to Bob’s affliction. We see his hands are taped, and that the masking is covering up his secret: he is disappearing. There is no flesh where there once was. The tips of his fingers float in the air, while his tendons and bones are like marionette strings exposed for us to see.
Bob’s physical maladies are honestly the best part of the film. Though it is easy to identify which reveals are practical effects and which are computer generated, their ingenuity and measured reveals are fascinating. Not only is it captivating to see violence-free gore and viscera, but seeing how these body caverns effect Bob emotionally makes the overall impact heavy.
It would have been better if the plot of THE UNSEEN saw that the relationship between Bob and is body is the soul of the film. Young’s performance is haunting and he could easily have carried the film on his own. Instead, it spends a good amount of its running time threading in unnecessary plot and subplots. Beyond Bob’s family drama we also have a crooked drug dealer (aren’t they all crooked?), shady Chinese medicine practitioners, and even an abandoned mental hospital (or is it?). This is all just too much. While this does give plenty of opportunities to have us get to know Bob, a more intimate examination of the man would have heightened his tragic nature.
Overall, THE UNSEEN is a great retelling of a classic concept. It fails when it ignores that focus, but regains its footing with enough frequency to generally remain on top.