The Unheard (2023) Review
Not a companion piece to Unseen, The Unheard is a new Shudder Original that combine the talents of Jeffrey A. Brown, who previously directed The Beach House and writers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen whose credits include Crawl and The Ward. It’s the story of Chloe (Lachlan Watson, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Chucky) who caught meningitis and spent six months in a coma as a child. She awoke to find that she had lost her hearing.
More importantly, she had lost her mother (Michele Hicks, The Gateway, The Wicked Within) as well. She disappeared without a trace during those months. She and her father (Bill Sage, The Pale Door, Hap and Leonard)moved to Maine and she’s tried to put it behind her and get on with her life.
Now a young woman she’s returned to Massachusetts Nand her family’s Wellfleet summer house in order to undergo an experimental treatment that could restore her hearing. Her doctor warns her that “Regaining sensibility can be quite jarring,” and the same can be said of being confronted with memories of her missing mother.
We follow Chloe as she cleans out the house, finding old VHS tapes of family events that include her mother and has awkward meetings with old friends Joshua (Brendan Meyer, Color Out of Space, The Friendship Game) and his mother Ellen (Boyana Balta, The Last Exorcism Part II, The Big Heist) as well as, Hank (Nick Sandow, Orange Is the New Black, Meadowland) an ex-cop and current harbourmaster.
What sets this apart from other similar homecoming scenes is the way The Unheard utilizes what is heard, and how, Sometimes we hear everything normally, such as when she uses a transcription app, or when we hear what other characters hear. But much of what we hear, we hear as Chloe does, an indistinct, distorted, noise. Until her mother’s voice starts to become distinct.
But The Unheard isn’t content to just be a psychologically tinged ghost story. Around forty minutes into the film two things occur that change the film’s course. First of all, Chloe’s hearing returns in a scene that manages to convey her elation without resorting to cliches. That and we see a black-gloved killer slash a woman’s throat, sending the film into giallo territory.
It’s immediately obvious that this is going to be linked to her mother, and some expository dialogue telling Chloe that this is just another in a long line of disappearances confirms it. The script tries to combine the two storylines, but they never really gel. It doesn’t help that a good bit of time is spent on a scene between Chloe and Dr. Lynch (Shunori Ramanathan, Spoiler Alert, The Big Sick) that raises interesting possibilities that the writers almost immediately pull back from.
The Unheard also has a problem trying to keep the killer’s identity hidden among such a small cast. It will be obvious to almost everyone who it is right away despite half-hearted attempts to misdirect the viewer. It’s as though even the writers themselves knew it was pointless.
The result is a film that starts strong and then sidelines an interesting plot for one that isn’t nearly as successful and begins to lose steam. And with a two-hour-plus running time, that is not a good thing. It does rally to deliver a good chase but the final payoff is as predictable as the killer’s identity. It’s also the reason for the warning about flashing lights at the film’s start.
The Unheard would have made a good ninety-minute ghost story. Or with a bigger cast a good serial killer film. But as an attempt to combine the two it manages to be overlong while still falling short. It’s still better than Unseen though.