It makes a refreshing change to see a low budget spook movie that isn't the output of a director working on his (or her) first film. Indeed Unspoken's Sheldon Wilson has a reasonable CV of small scale horror quickies under his belt, albeit mostly shot for TV.
Unspoken was made in 2014 under the original and far more descriptive title The Haunting of Briar House. By the time it played at the UK's FrightFest Halloween all dayer last year the title had been changed to The Unspoken. For the 2016 DVD release the definite article has been dropped and it's just Unspoken. Huh?
Unspoken focuses on a house in the woods that, in an effective and quite frightening prologue, is shown to be the scene of a mass murder and a family abduction by unknown forces - afterwards the place gets a reputation as 'the Briar House' which no-one will go near. Seventeen years later a young woman, Ruby, and her strange mute son Adrian move into the house, knowing nothing about its history and seeking a secluded country retreat to help get over the death of Adrian's father.
Local teenager Angela, who works in a children's nursery, learns of Ruby's need for someone to help with Adrian and offers her services - she is motherless and the extra cash will come in handy as her father is unemployed. Adrian is a strange and haunted little boy (well played by Sunny Suljic, all furrowed brow and pinched face) and it's not long before Angela experiences weird things in the house; rattling doors and marbles moving of their own accord. Angela's friend Pandy, who seems more than just a friend to our childminder, also runs with the local tearaways, who give her a tough time about her sexual leanings. They rope her in to breaking into the Briar House to take back the stash of drugs and 'other things' they've stored there while the house was empty, using its reputation as a safe hideaway. The break-in unleashes a force within the house which threatens anyone in it - starting with Angela's friend - and when Pandey's wrong-side-of-the-tracks cohorts, realising that she has gone missing, follow her in to recover their booty, the house takes its revenge.
Unspoken seems to throw pretty much everything into the mix in the hope of creating an effective haunted house movie. There's a creepy handyman, strange visions, flying objects and a million jump scares. It also delivers a final reel twist that left me almost speechless - which anyone who knows me will understand is a rare phenomenon. I'll give nothing away except to mention that if you saw, and thought the denouement of James Wan's The Diabolical hard to swallow (a film which offers an equally off the wall explanation for a haunting), you won't know where to start with this one. It's that odd.
More positively I really liked the first half of this film. It's a pleasing slow burner with a promising atmospheric prologue. The camera creeps around uneasily and the cast are genuinely backwoods in look and behaviour. Things go off the rails with some random gore, which upsets the tone and remains unexplained. After which, and before that payoff, Unspoken turns into a spook movie farce, with various characters running in and out of the seemingly endless numbers of cabin doors. Thankfully trousers stay up.
Sheldon Wilson's CV shows that he's not about making Oscar nominated movies, which is fine by me. However quite how this one will be remembered when the Canadian director's work is reviewed in the future I'm not so sure. A step forward from his twin 2011 disaster-movies-on-a-dollar offerings Killer Mountain and Snowmageddon? Or a step back from his 2004 movie Shallow Ground which at least made sense, and secured enough interest to manage a UK and US theatrical release, a fate unlikely to befall Unspoken.