It’s a perfect montage of a perfect life; Gemma gives readings in the high street bookshop and receives applause, she returns home to make chocolate milk for her young son, she records Bible passages in her home studio, she does lengths in the indoor pool as her devoted husband Will drives the babysitter home.
And in a momentary lapse of attention as the listens to opera and prepares to step into the hot bubble bath she has just drawn, a moment of inattention in which she assumes that Joel is still asleep in his room, she creates a hole in their lives that cannot be filled by their formerly strong faith.
Unable to cope with the death of their son, while Will withdraws into silent anger Gemma begins to display physical symptoms of amaurosis, what would once have been called hysterical blindness, her vision failing any time a random event triggers her memories of Joel.
Rescued by a passerby who finds her wandering the streets helplessly, the kindly Paul offers them the convenient use of his recently refurbished guest house in the Lake District, but distance and a calming surround are not enough to make the nightmares go away, Will becoming convinced that he can hear Joel’s voice within in the walls, deteriorating even as Gemma begins to recover.
Written and directed by Leon the Pig Farmer‘s Gary Sinyor, The Unseen is a psychological thriller with aspects of supernatural mystery and horror, but like The Dark Mile released earlier this year the pastoral countryside alone is insufficient to give the required atmosphere to a stilted production, not so much slow-burning as smouldering damply.
A difficult character to like from the outset as she basks in her unspoken privilege, any sympathy for Gemma’s denial of her situation and refusal to seek counselling evaporates when she suffers an attack while belting down the motorway, endangering not only herself but others, her miraculous escape with only minor injury not lessening the selfishness of her behaviour.
Caught in a Möbius of grief and guilt, The Unseen raises then fails to examine the role of religion in comforting the bereaved or ask how Gemma, experienced in audio production, doesn’t question Paul about his own equipment which includes a powerful microphone which can pick up minute sounds through a window and across a field, the shape of the bends obvious to anyone who has read Christopher Brookmyre‘s Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks before arriving at a finale which makes Shut In seem a masterpiece of logic and credibility.
With cold performances from Jasmine Hyde, Simon Cotton and Richard Flood who quite obviously wears swimming trunks in the bath and who in one scene sports a prominent scar whose origin apparently didn’t make the final cut, only this year the madness of parenthood and loss have been better depicted in Prevenge and A Dark Song; look to those rather than this homegrown attempt at Don’t Look Now.