‘The Unspoken’: Film Review
Jodelle Ferland and Neal McDonough co-star in Sheldon Wilson’s haunted house feature.
A horror film that relies on a silent child to adequately convey terror is starting off with a significant handicap, one that The Unspoken never manages to overcome. Writer-director Sheldon Wilson seems to think that forcing a youngster into perilous situations will generate enough sympathy and suspense to escalate tension, a miscalculation that dooms the film almost from the outset, although no doubt the day-and-date release will prove more popular on VOD than in theaters.
Seventeen years after a young family inexplicably disappeared from their rural Pacific Northwest home, new owners finally move in, arousing curiosity in the adjacent small town. Seeking a babysitter to help with her young son Adrian (Sunny Suljic), single mom Jeanie (Pascale Hutton) contacts teenage Angela (Jodelle Ferland), who lives alone with her dad after the tragic death of her mother more than a dozen years previous. Since her father has been out of work at the sawmill for months, Angela agrees to ride her bike all the way out to Jeanie’s place to look after Adrian, who hasn’t spoken a word for several years since the death of his father. Angela is also trying to avoid a trio of local hoods, led by Luther (Anthony Konechny), who’s dating Angela’s on-and-off crush Pandy (Chanelle Peloso).
The arrival of Jeanie and Adrian sets off alarm bells for Luther, since the sizable stash he's safeguarding for some rather unforgiving drug dealers is hidden in their house, which nobody ever expected to be inhabited again after the earlier tragedy. As Angela begins spending more time with Adrian, she starts to notice unusual things about their home, as furniture, toys and utensils seem to move about on their own. Since Jeanie seems unconcerned, Angela ignores the incidents, but the disappearance of a local handyman working on the property prompts an investigation by Officer Bower (Neal McDonough), who finds evidence of ritual sacrifices in the nearby woods. Angela becomes convinced that Luther and his sidekicks may be orchestrating events, never realizing how wrong she is about the proximity of mortal danger.
With roles in features like Silent Hill and The Cabin in the Woods, Ferland has done her share of horror films, but seems to bring only a hint of that experience to The Unspoken. The fault lies primarily with Wilson’s uneven script, which vacillates between horror and thriller, although it’s not particularly exemplary of either genre. Ferland feigns puzzlement or fright at the supernatural incidents playing out in the house, but never adequately conveys the level of terror that events seem to justify. A subplot involving Angela’s mother’s relationship with the previous family and their disappearance is needlessly confusing, converting a potentially powerful plot point into an overworked puzzle.
McDonough doesn’t need any coaching on his character, having played plenty of law-enforcement types in the past, but tasked with an impossible investigation, there’s not much for him to do. Young Suljic, denied a speaking part, attempts to express bewilderment and something more foreboding solely with body language and facial expressions, which is not an easy task for an inexperienced actor.
Wilson, who knows his way around horror material as well or better than Ferland, can’t help falling back on jump scares, assaultive music cues and poltergeist-driven SFX to try and generate some tension, instead of retooling the script to tighten the plot and sharpen the characters. By the time that Angela’s secretive relationship with Pandy becomes more absorbing than the source of the house haunting, he’s pretty much lost the audience already.
Production companies: Great Point Media, Lighthouse Pictures, Sapphire Fire Limited
Cast: Jodelle Ferland, Neal McDonough, Sunny Suljic, Pascale Hutton, Chanelle Peloso, Anthony Konechny
Director-writer: Sheldon Wilson
Producer: Jamie Goehring
Executive producers: Steven Schneider, Shawn Williamson, Jonathan Shore
Director of photography: Eric J. Goldstein
Production designer: Rick Whitfield
Costume designer: Allisa Swanson
Editor: Tony Dean Smith
Music: Matthew Rogers
Not rated, 91 minutes