Earlier this year, we got Unseen that found a nearly blind woman relying on a stranger to guide her to safety while her homicidal ex stalked her through the woods. Now Shudder has released its latest – The Unheard – a sonic-infused thriller centered around a young deaf woman experiencing auditory hallucinations. At face value, the thriller from director Jeffrey A. Brown seems to channel its scares from similarly-themed horror movies wherein radical experiments give way to untold horrors. To date, reviews have fallen right down the middle hinting at some polarizing results.
As a young girl, Chloe Grayden suffered an acute case of meningitis that left her deaf. Around the same time, Chloe’s mother simply disappeared without a trace. Now in her 20s, Chloe returns to her family’s Cape Code cabin to recover from an experimental surgery. Isolated in the offseason with only the local handyman and an ex-childhood friend close by, Chloe initially struggles to pass away the day until one morning when her hearing miraculously returns. But her initial joy gives way to terror as bizarre auditory hallucinations – maybe connected to her missing mother – increasingly haunt her with each passing day.
The Unheard Puts Its Psycho-Sonic Scares on an Extended Loop
On its surface, The Unheard immediately risks being an overly familiar supernatural horror tale. Past horror movies – including Body Parts and The Eye – have toyed with radical experiments and subsequent inherited evils. Writer Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, however, initially ensure that their thriller feels wholly distinct from similar genre fare. Moreover, director Jeffrey A. Brown (The Beach House) establishes a patient and effectively moody tone that aids in making The Unheard feel different. Specifically, Brown mixes creepy VHS home movies alongside audible horror that goes from faintly heard sounds to sonic booms. There’s something impressive in the fact that the director avoids the obvious trappings of ‘loud sounds’ to generate scares.
…Brown insists on a slow burn that constantly promises something better.
Even when crackling radio sounds and sonic static that teases something beyond the grave threatens to recycle movies like White Noise, Brown insists on a slow burn that constantly promises something better. Until it doesn’t deliver. Slow burns eventually need to advance their story to something that not only engages but slowly draws an audience to the edge of their seats. Too bad The Unheard stretches its story to just over the two hour mark. Simply put, there isn’t enough movie here to justify that ambitious runtime. As a result, The Unheard begins to recycles its psycho-sonic scares. Brown and the Rasmussens introduce a potentially interesting subplot involving missing women and a serial killer, but they take far too long to connect the dots back to the main story.
The Unheard Inevitably Gives In To Familiar Genre Tropes
In addition to its lackluster pacing, The Unheard inevitably succumbs to a mix of tired slasher and serial killer tropes. As the third act finally unfolds, Brown and the Rasmussen’s give in to familiarity and their thriller loses much of what made it work so well. In fact, as the exposition rolls out, one might be somewhat surprised by just how conventional the story becomes in its final scenes. This isn’t to say that there isn’t suspense and some thrills packed into its final 10 to 15 minutes. Yes, Brown effectively picks up the pace and adds some urgency to the proceedings. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to ignore the more generic trappings of the finale, particularly when what proceeded it felt so fresh.
As the third act finally unfolds, Brown and the Rasmussen’s give in to familiarity and their thriller loses much of what made it work so well.
On the plus side, Lachlan Watson (Chucky, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) turns in a quietly confident and strong performance. Her early resilience pulls audiences in and deliver an immediate payoff later in the thriller as Watson’s ‘Chloe’ regains her hear hearing. By this point of the movie, Watson has you engaged enough in her character that there’s somethings disarmingly charming about watching her enjoy the pleasures of simple sounds we take for granted. To some extent, supernatural thrillers like The Unheard require a ‘human’ and grounded performance like the one Watson delivers to ensure audiences remain invested. Joining Watson in a supporting role, Orange is the New Black’s Nick Sandow gives a restrained performance as the local handyman. And Brendan Meyer (Color Out of Space) does what he can playing what’s essentially an extended red herring.
The Unheard a Decent Thriller, But Quietly Succumbs to the Conventional
On one hand, there’s lots to like about The Unheard. Brown eschews expectations by refusing to rely on ‘loud noises’ to create scares. For about two-thirds of its runtime, The Unheard slow burns an intriguing mystery alongside Watson’s strong performance. But Brown lets things slow burn too long especially as his movie tips in at just over two hours. Not enough happens in that time and it’s not long before some of the innovative scares feel like they’re playing on a loop. Once the third act lapses into familiar ‘slash and stalk’ mode, The Unheard loses much of its early punch. The end result is still a decent thriller – yet one can’t help but think a much better move was left on the table.