The Unseen (1980) **
D: Danny Steinmann
C: Stephen Furst, Barbara Bach, Sydney Lassick, Lelia Goldoni, Karen Lamm, Douglas Barr, Lois Young, Maida Severn
Plot Synopsis: A trio of female reporters find themselves staying overnight in a house occupied by a hostile being lurking in the basement.
Review: The Unseen has one of those endings that has to be seen to be believed. It's an audacious moment where you have to admire the tenacity of the people involved with this production for having the conviction to follow through with presenting this one of a kind finale.
However, an ending can't simply make a film. Sure, a bad ending can break a film. An ending can even give extra depth & context to the proceedings that unfold before hand, but there has to be a foundation before the finale arrives. A prime example is the original Friday the 13th (1980).
In it, we watch as a group of counselors prepare for the re-opening of a camp that's had a troubled history. According to the locals, a young boy drowned in 1957. A year later, two counselors were murdered. In the years that followed, the camp was plagued with fires and a series of water poisonings that prevented the camp from re-opening. Flash forward to the present and we watch as a killer picks off the counselors. In the film's closing moments, we learn that the killer is a former employee, played by Betsy Palmer, who's son had drowned at the camp, while the counselors were busy making love. From there, all of the pieces begin to connect.
The two counselors, who were murdered a year later, were the counselors responsible for the drowning. In an effort to keep the camp closed, the killer poisoned the water and set fire to the place. Unable to stop the camp from re-opening in the present, the killer took to picking off the new staff. After all, if the staff is dead, who will run the place? What Friday the 13th executed correctly was that they laid out all of the pieces and hid their motives in plain sight. So, when the finale arrives and all is revealed, it didn't feel like the film had cheated to arrive at this moment. It worked two fold in that it surprised the audience, but it also made everything else that had occurred even more meaningful.
In The Unseen, we watch as a two sisters and their friend are off'ed by a killer who remains unseen until the finale. For the majority of the running time, we watch as the characters split up, so that one character can wander off only to be murdered. Some characters act suspicious, while others try to get to the bottom of it all. They eventually arrive at an arbitrary finale in which the killer is revealed and their motive for murder is explained.
Even though the finale is an eye opening experience, the problem is that it stops the rest of the story from being developed. Before the finale, there's no real character development that gets to the heart of why the characters act a certain way or what makes them tick. There's no real story that delves into the history of the principal location. There's no real story to be engaged by. It's just a bunch of false scares, heightened musical cues, a main setting that's photographed in a menacing way and the occasional death scene or two.
An ending has to be in service of a movie. Think about it. We watch movies to see a story that interest us in some way, shape or form. In The Unseen, it's the exact opposite. They have an ending and it's certainly something, whether the ending is good or bad, I'll leave up to you, but it comes at the expense of everything else. [R] 89 minutes.
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