In Jeffrey A. Brown’s “The Unheard,” one young woman’s past trauma collides with a present-day terror in a sleepy Northeastern town. After Chloe (Lachlan Watson) enrolls in a clinical trial at the Northeast Eye and Ear Institute (which looks to be based on Mass Eye and Ear) to repair her hearing that was damaged during a childhood illness, she heads out to her dad’s residence on the Cape to recover and help him sell the house where they last saw her mother (Michele Hicks) before she disappeared. You’ll soon discover this town has an awful history of missing women. Lost in-between waves of nostalgia and videotape-induced flashbacks, Chloe begins to hear voices and sounds no one else can.
“The Unheard” has its shining moments, but they are not enough to cover for some duller missteps. Although the premise is strong, its execution is less-than-convincing. Watson plays the leading role in such a whisper that her underwhelming performance doesn’t carry the screams or suspense the movie aims for. It seems as if she weren’t given enough material or direction to liven things up on-screen, which is noticeable since she is alone for a good portion of the movie. Not all of the filming choices, editing or writing quite land on the same tone, which lessens the overall impact of the story. Some of the more badly staged moments elicited a few eye rolls and groans from this viewer.
Speaking of the story, screenwriters Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen weave two parallel scary narratives into one—that of a young woman who undergoes experimental surgery with unintended consequences and that of a haunted town where women go missing, like Chloe’s mother—but the two story threads don’t always mesh together smoothly. Sometimes, plot twists feel given away, shoehorned in, or some scenes take too much time luxuriating in the VCR trips down memory lane instead of building towards something. It’s as this movie’s rhythm is a bit off-beat.
Despite this supernatural influence held in cassette tapes, Brown and cinematographer Owen Levelle imagine Chloe’s world to look rather drab. It’s the off-season on the Cape, but instead of New England’s famous fall colors, the setting looks brown and muddy. There’s almost a soft focused quality to some of the images, as if some of its sharpness was blurred to look as if shot through a light haze. When light streams in through the windows, the image looks blown out, which intensifies the images’ haze. Other scenes looked so aged and vaguely sepia-toned that I briefly thought it looked like a period piece.
Lead actress Watson has the unenviable task of playing a soft-spoken character going through extraordinary circumstances, but her performance never quite moves past wide-eyed intrigue. The other characters Chloe meets on her journey, like Joshua (Brendan Meyer), the strange boy-staying-next-door, and Hank (Nick Sandow), the odd too-helpful neighbor who seems too suspicious, and Doctor Lynch (Shunori Ramanathan), Chloe’s well-meaning specialist in Boston, are similarly one note and don’t add much to the on-screen dynamics.
However, Brown uses sound in such a way that immerses the audience in Chloe’s world. This can mean that conversations sound muted or muffled before the surgery, or it can spike uncomfortably to demonstrate when she’s hearing something beyond what most people can hear. Before and immediately after her procedure, Chloe relies on live transcription software to bridge any sound gaps while the movie’s audio plays unaltered in the background to demonstrate how she navigates the world on her own.
It’s a testament to the work of sound designer Colin Alexander and the rest of the sound department that “The Unheard” works at all. Otherwise, Brown’s film left me wanting more. There’s not much else to enjoy in the uninspired visuals, the stilted acting, or clunky script that leads up to an ending so fantastically dull, it undoes the little good will the movie accumulates over the course of its runtime. Perhaps “The Unheard” is better left unseen.
The Unheard (2023)
Lachlan Watsonas Chloe
Nick Sandowas Hank
Brendan Meyeras Joshua
Michele Hicksas Mom
Shunori Ramanathanas Dr. Lynch
Boyana Baltaas Ellen
Beckett Guestas Young friend
Michelle Violetteas Store Clerk
- Jeffrey A. Brown
- Shawn Rasmussen
- Michael Rasmussen
- Owen Levelle
- Aaron Crozier