The Unseen Pits an Absentee Father Against His Own Biology
Fantasia Film Festival 2016
Invisible men in movies are typically relegated to two extremes – they’re either killing people or peeping on co-eds in the shower. I get it, I mean what else would you do if you had the ability to turn invisible? Murder or voyeurism are pretty much the only real options. But what if the process was beyond your control?
Bob (Aden Young) is something of a loner at the lumber mill where he works, but he knows he’s not exactly in the right state of mind – or of body – to mingle and explore a social life. He’s slowly, one chunk of flesh at a time, turning invisible. It’s not pretty either as his flesh disappears as if eaten away by some carnivorous virus – we see bone and viscera exposed – forcing Bob to conceal it with gauze and layered clothing.
He’s lost more than just his body parts due to the illness as he made the decision years ago to leave his wife Darlene (Camille Sullivan) and infant daughter to spare them the sight. It’s better they don’t see him than can’t see him. Bob returns home when the now-teenage Eva (Julia Sarah Stone) begins showing signs of distress, but his daughter’s increasing problems are just the beginning as mental hospital shenanigans, Asian quacks, and an angry drug dealer all vie for attention.
Writer/director Geoff Redknap makes his feature debut here after a career spent working as a makeup effects artist on films as diverse as the Black Christmas remake and Star Trek Beyond, and it’s no surprise that the invisibility effect is terrifically crafted. Our looks at Bob’s missing flesh are accomplished through a combination of practical and digital effects work, and it looks very cool each time.
More surprising is the heart that Redknap and his two leads, Young and Stone, bring to the tale of an absentee father and his estranged daughter. They’re dealing with slowly disappearing flesh, but that doesn’t mean their other issues get swept under the rug – she still had to grow up without a dad, regardless of his good intentions, and the pair’s interactions as they work through feelings reveal strong performances and an emotion often absent from thrillers.
It’s actually those thriller aspects that drag the film down with unnecessary convolution and empty suspense. Bob’s own troubles are one thing as they add an air of small-time crooks to a traditional genre tale, but Eva’s disappearance and subplot involving a Chinese doctor are muddled and disjointed. Logic issues come into play as more is revealed about Bob’s genetic disorder too – the film shares both too much and not enough on his history leaving viewers wishing things were either answered better or left as more of a mystery.
The invisible men of cinema are typically relegated to horror (The Invisible Man, Hollow Man) or T&A (The Invisible Maniac, Hollow Man), but what we don’t see are stories about the person we’re no longer seeing. Redknap comes close to capturing that and evokes, albeit minimally, the emotion and ideas of Robert Cormier’s excellent novel Fade. Fans of these themes would do well to seek out a copy.
“Where are you going Bob?” asks Bob to himself, and while it’s a clever nod to his steadily increasing invisibility it also speaks to his character as a man and as a father. The Unseen works best as a character piece allowing him to answer that question, and while plot gets in the way far too frequently Bob’s journey remains worth seeing.