Signal Horizon

See Beyond

BUFF 2023 The Unheard Review- Disquieting, Slow Burner Creeps Up On You

Silence has a sound in Jeffrey A. Brown’s The Unheard. Sometimes it’s the lovely silence of the wind rustling through leaves, and other times it’s the ear-splitting silence of a darkened room you are convinced hides something monstrous. When ghosts of the past haunt our present, there is no moving on in this surprising, slow burner with much to say if you know where to listen. If these walls could talk.

The Unheard

Shudder’s The Unheard, which saw its world premiere at Boston Underground Film Fest yesterday and will get its streaming release on March 31st, is a must-see for those who like their horror weird and creepy. Brown, best known for The Beach House, another decidedly weird horror movie, has taken a concept we have seen before in White Noise, Frequency, and The Quiet Place and given it new life. By combining elements of the prior two with a healthy dose of deprivation horror, the film written by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen subverts expectations. It’s a tonally quiet film that sneaks up on you.

Chloe, Chucky’s Lachlan Watson, has been deaf since childhood due to Meningitis. After undergoing an experimental treatment, she returns to her childhood home to prepare it for sale. Her father stayed in the city with plans to return in several weeks. As her hearing returns, Chloe becomes more and more concerned that something is wrong. She isn’t just hearing the sounds she should. She now hears echoes from the past, which are increasing in intensity. Her tragic past and who she should trust reveal themselves slowly over more than two hours. Sometimes exceedingly slow, The Unheard is the kind of movie that rewards those who stick around.

Pacing is a tricky thing, particularly in a psychological horror film. Give away too much too soon, and entire acts can feel pointless. But, on the other hand, if you wait too long, your audience becomes fatigued and fails to connect with the characters. Brown’s film rides that line. While it does wait too long to give us the final act twist, Watson’s Chloe in a nearly one-actor show is tremendous and keeps the audience engaged even when we want to check out. Her tender vulnerability is cut from the same cloth as Anna Cobb’s Casey in We’re All Going To The World’s Fair.

While the dangers of online relationships and fragile youth are the driving force there, a mystery is at the center of The Unheard. Just like in World’s Fair, there is a melancholy hopefulness that you know is on the verge of being snuffed out. You know what the danger is in World’s Fair, but you don’t learn what it is in this film until the very end. Whether the payoff is worth, it depends on your tolerance for these kinds of films. It isn’t full of blood. There’s no ax-wielding maniac, and there isn’t a single jump scare, although some could argue there are some deeply disturbing sounds that act as auditory startles.

The sound design by Colin Alexander is excellent. The silent moments work well with the noisy ones to jar the viewer and put her in Chloe’s headspace. The film feels from another place and time, propelling the dread throughout. Those of a certain age will remember the unsettling imagery a bad VCR tape can produce. You also remember the teeth-grating unpleasantness of corrupted videos and static. Both are employed here and help ground the film firmly in the horror genre despite its lack of traditional scares.

When things start to get strange, a vital bit of ambiguity keeps the movie from becoming stale. You aren’t sure what is happening to Chloe until the very end. Is she hallucinating? Did the treatment cure her, and now she needs time to adjust to her new hearing reality, or is there something otherworldly in her old house?

The Unheard is patient, quiet by design, and deeply creepy. It’s meticulously laid out and relies heavily on Watson’s young shoulders to deliver the goods. She is brilliant, allowing Chloe to be stoic and vulnerable simultaneously. Her subtle approach and expressive face elevate this movie from an indulgent film that requires more time in the editing booth to a tense thriller you can’t look away from. You can find all our BUFF 2023 coverage here, and look for The Unheard on Shudder on March 31st, 2023.