Address Trauma and Heal Through the Horror with The Unheard (2023)
Title: The Unheard
First Non-Festival Release: March 31, 2023 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Jeffrey A. Brown
Writer: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Runtime: 125 Minutes
Starring: Lachlan Watson, Brendan Meyer, Nick Sandow
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
How often do you listen to the world around you? When hearing is second nature to so many of us, it is possible that we take it for granted.
Not Chloe Grayden (Lachlan Watson). After suffering profound hearing loss from a childhood illness brought on after the traumatic disappearance of her mother, Chloe enlists in an experimental study to correct her hearing. When her hearing returns, she is initially delighted, until she begins experiencing auditory hallucinations that might be related to her mother.
Deliberately paced, The Unheard is a creeping sensory horror that struggles to put the pieces together in the end.
The twisty journey of The Unheard begins with its promising first act. From the moment Chloe fills out the first intake paper at the hospital to stepping foot in the seasonal town home, there is an element of mystery and ennui. Clearly, Chloe is fixated on what happened to her mom so many years ago. Viewers follow Chloe on her journey not only in rediscovering the joys [and horrors] of sound, but also her adolescence. The events that led to her hearing loss are tumultuous to say the least, but viewers see that Chloe’s spirit burns with resilience in the spirit of her mother.
Despite its interesting premise and engaging character work, The Unheard wanders its way toward its conclusion. Clocking it at over two hours, the biggest obstacle in the way for The Unheard is its ungainly runtime. Much of the winding road makes way for developing Chloe while not allowing the actual mystery behind her mother’s disappearance to take center stage. It isn’t even until nearly 45 minutes into the film that a serial killer subplot is introduced to help explain the sequence of events. While it does tie in well with the story, it clashes with Chloe’s individual journey of regaining hearing. There are plenty of similar, smaller aspects of The Unheard that tie together poorly in this manner.
Stellar performances from its two leads make up for its consistent story trappings. Given the amount of screentime they receive, Lachlan Watson’s performance as Chloe melts away the icy exterior of a young person who suffered a double blow of trauma growing up that never fully healed. Watson captures the excitement and sorrows that come with healing while never losing the resourcefulness and care waver within Chloe. Furthermore, their reactions to Chloe’s reacquaintance with sound feel spectacularly realistic, grounding the film and making Chloe a more fully realized character. Nick Sandow, on the other hand, does well as Hank, the man her father trusts to take care of the maintenance of their home while he works in the city. His inclusion gives a semi-paternal energy to the film while balancing with grit and intensity when the third act comes into play.
One of the strongest aspects of The Unheard is its commitment to sensory horror, as it is an audio and visual feast. Since its story hinges on the introduction of new sense, The Unheard plays with these stimuli in a variety of ways to unnerve the viewer. Fading in and out of the action, audience members cannot help but to be at the mercy of Chloe’s condition. As Chloe engages with the various unsettling aspects of living alone in a big house isolated from people, it is easy to sympathize with the situation. Director Jeffrey A. Brown makes it a point to thrust viewers into Chloe’s shoes by making them interact with the world together. Every time Chloe hears a sizzle, crack, creak, or bang, we do too. Throw in some inspired and grainy home movies and The Unheard takes its winding journey to its forgone conclusion in style.
A somber sojourn into the sadness of growing older and not fully addressing your issues, The Unheard commands the viewer to listen to its message. This journey is messy and confusing, much like the narrative of the film, but that is what makes it feel so human. Watson and Sandow’s performances are captivating and easily the centerpiece of the story. Slow, sad, and simmering with mystery, Brown captures the uneasy feeling of living in a tourist town long after the high season is over, making The Unheard a rather engaging feature. In the end, its runtime works against it but not nearly enough to sink it. You can tell anyone you heard it from me that this is a film to seek out before the year ends.
Overall Score? 6/10