'The Unseen': Fantasia Review

Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival
An involving sci-fi/family-drama hybrid with one more subplot than it needs.

A man with a bizarre disease tries to make amends with the daughter he abandoned.

The Invisible Man is a working stiff in The Unseen, Geoff Redknap's story of an estranged father trying to do right by his child despite being burdened by a sci-fi secret. Treating a disease that causes slow-creeping invisibility as just one of the hurdles faced by his hero (played with Jeremy Renner-like gruffness by Aden Young), Redknap melds genre kicks with family drama, favoring the latter in ways that underline his take-this-seriously realism but sometimes get in the way of the viewer's enjoyment. Still, the picture, which screened at the Fantasia Film Festival, will find fans at other events such as this one, and perhaps in limited theatrical release.

Young's Bob works at a sawmill in remote northern Canada, having left his wife and daughter behind in the city eight years ago. Beaten down in ways we chalk up to his blue-collar grind, he has already gotten used to his unusual affliction: Sitting alone in his apartment, he peels back a bandage and exposes flesh that is part visible, part transparent; "Where are you goin', Bob?" he asks himself ruefully. When in public, Bob uses caps and jackets to strategically hide the parts of him that have vanished, but he needs a little more cover-up every day.

After getting a call from his ex-wife about their daughter Eva (Julia Sarah Stone), Bob decides to visit the girl whose memory of him is no more stable than his visibility. He has car trouble on the way, though, necessitating a fairly contrived arrangement with a local drug dealer, who fixes his truck in exchange for a bit of smuggling.

There's more than enough plot material in Bob's effort to reconcile with Eva — who's about to be abducted mysteriously after going with friends to explore an abandoned mental hospital — without the added threat of a gangster who grows impatient with Bob and starts threatening to hurt his family if he doesn't finish his illicit chore soon. But the weighed-down pic stays on the rails, slowly exploring Bob's fears about how his unexplained ailment might be the only legacy he gets to leave his child.

Strong performances in key roles sustain the film, whose convincing notes of social realism may inspire viewers to read invisibility as a metaphor for a working class increasingly left out of society's decision-making processes. If Redknap intends that, though, he certainly isn't obvious about it; he identifies with Bob so specifically, viewers are left to generalize on our own.

Making his writing/directing feature debut, Redknap might have been expected to make the most of his experience in the FX departments of big Hollywood features. But he gives us only as many skin-crawling glimpses of vanishing flesh — where "holes" sometimes reveal internal organs, sometimes make the body's interior seem hollow — as the story demands. He's not as sparing with FX as Gareth Edwards was in Monsters, but Unseen displays a similar smartness about prioritizing human over computer-generated effects.

Venue: Fantasia Film Festival
Production company: Goonworks Films
Cast: Aden Young, Camille Sullivan, Julia Sarah Stone, Ben Cotton, Max Chadburn, Alison Araya, Max Haynes
Director-screenwriter: Geoff Redknap
Producer: Katie Weekley
Director of photography: Stephen Maier
Production designer: Caitlin Byrnes
Costume designer: Scott Moffat
Editor: Thom Kyle
Composer: Harlow MacFarlane

Not rated, 104 minutes