(A.k.a. THE HAUNTING OF BRIAR HOUSE; THE UNSPOKEN)
October 14th, 1997. Small town deputy sheriff Hill (Matt Bellefleur) pays a visit to Briar House on the outskirts one night. Upon arrival, he discovers the front door ajar and blood stained upon the windows. Venturing inside, strange occurrences freak him out: lights flickering on and off, inanimate objects moving of their own accord and so on. There's no trace of the mother, father or two kids who reside there. What Hill does discover is a hanged priest with crosses carved bloodily into each of his wrists, and the home's frantic, blood-soaked housekeeper (Jessie Fraser).
Fast-forward to "17 years later". The family have never been found and that night's events remain unexplained. Briar House has stood unused ever since. That is, until now.
Out-of-towner Jeanie (Pascale Hutton) has bought the place. Presumably for a steal, as it's completely dilapidated. Its remote location seems to suit her though, and seems perfect for the needs of her troubled nine-year-old son Adrian (Sunny Suljic). He hasn't uttered a word in two years, since his Dad died.
It's only when Jeanie hires hard-up local child minder Angela (Jodelle Ferland) that she begins to a little more about the house's dubious history.
Angela is disturbed by strange recurring dreams as it is. So placing her in a house rumoured locally to be cursed is perhaps not a good idea. But, with her father out of work and their household desperately in need of the cash, she has little choice but to throw herself into caring for the withdrawn Adrian. Besides, Jeanie and housekeeper Portia (Rukiya Bernard) seem affable enough. Angela seems to establish a connection with Adrian quite quickly, much to Jeanie's surprise.
But there are complications. First of all, there are a trio of juvenile miscreants who are put out by the fact that Briar House is once again being occupied. They'd been hiding their drugs there, figuring that it'd be the last place the local cops would search for them. With the help of Angela's best pal Pandy (Chanelle Paloso), they now want to gain access into the house in order to retrieve their illicit stash.
Secondly there's the disappearance of local handyman Walker (Michael Rogers), which brings the cops - specifically sheriff Bower (Neal McDonough). While looking for Walker, he unearths several animal corpses surrounding the house, seemingly slaughtered in ritualistic manner.
This news understandably unsettles Jeanie. But worse is to come. A short while later, Portia shits herself when the kitchen cupboard doors start banging open and shut. And Angela discovers a mysterious locked door in Adrian's bedroom...
UNSPOKEN comes from director Sheldon Wilson, whose SHALLOW GROUND was an inspired, gory low-budget horror debut. It hinted at brighter things to come. But this, which the Canadian filmmaker wrote and directed, doesn't really have any identity at all.
Hutton and Ferland are likeable leads, agreeable and warm in an age where too many horror films seem content to populate themselves with cuntish wisecracking bores. Their performances, along with tight editing and keen photography, are the highpoints of UNSPOKEN. Because virtually everything else is steeped in cliché. Not even fusing the home invasion genre (Pandy's mates attempting to get their drugs) and haunted house tropes can make it interesting.
All the scares are signposted. Off-screen crew members lobbing cats at actors while the music shrieks in sharp jagged bursts; characters popping up behind others to provide corny jump-scares: it's all here. There's minimal character development and for 90 percent of the film you will feel like you've seen all of this being done better so many times before.
But, the final act redeems it somewhat. I genuinely didn't expect the surprise denouement. It's a cool twist on conventions, and there's even a nifty - amusing - final scene to cap things off.
It's not quite enough to seal the deal on this coming as "highly recommended", but if you're looking for a moderately entertaining, well-acted and good-looking thriller with a good ending, then UNSPOKEN should fit the bill.
UNSPOKEN comes to UK DVD courtesy of Arrow Films. It's presented uncut in its original 2.35:1 ratio. The 16x9 picture is very good: convincingly filmic, clear and sharp. Deep blacks are free from noise, while colours and flesh tones are well rendered throughout.
English 5.1 audio is reliably robust in all the right places, while providing clean representations of quieter passages and evenly channelled drama.
The disc opens to an animated main menu page. A static scene selection menu affords access to the film by way of 12 chapters.
There are no bonus features, though the DVD is defaulted to open with trailers for BACKTRACK and ANGUISH (no relation to the fantastic Bigas Luna film).
I could've given up on UNSPOKEN by the midway point. I'm glad I didn't, as it does prove itself worthwhile come the final frame. Worth a punt if you can find it cheap.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Films|
|see main review|