THE UNFAMILIAR (2020)
Directed by Henk Pretorius
Written by Henk Pretorius, Jennifer Nicole Stang
Starring Jemima West, Christopher Dane, Rebecca Hanssen, Harry McMillan-Hunt, Rachel Lin, Tori Butler-Hart, Ben Lee, Guy Warren-Thomas, Beatrice Woolrych
Find out more about this film here!!
THE UNFAMILAIR refers both to the presence of something supernatural as well as a culture that is quite foreign to the central family of the film, yet it also refers to the personal feelings of the central protagonist. It’s a smart title to an effective, yet subtle horror movie.
Upon returning from the front lines of a war, a British doctor named Izzy (Jemima West) returns home with many battle scars to find her family somewhat foreign to her. While her husband Ethan (Christopher Dane) attests that it is just her difficulty adjusting to life after war, Izzy is sure that something supernatural is occurring with her family. As the supernatural events occur with more frequency, Izzy’s mental state is crumbling and Ethan suggests that the whole family go on a vacation to Hawaii for some rest and relaxation. This only seems to intensify the horror as Izzy believes some kind of evil force has followed them there.
The thing I like the most about THE UNFAMILIAR is that it plays with the themes of being a foreigner in your own family. Izzy has been deeply scarred from the war and has missed out on crucial moments of her family’s growth while on duty. Her body, as well, has been altered due to the massive scarring she endured during the way, both physically and mentally. One of the things Izzy reacts to the most is the appearance of a Tiki idol in her infant child’s bedroom which Ethan bought on a lark. Because this Tiki culture is foreign to her, she fears it and feels it is the source of the unnatural feelings she’s feeling. All of these thematic layers are placed subtly atop one another to make a potent little story about how far the fabric of the family can be stretched before it breaks.
While I don’t feel that the scares of THE UNFAMILIAR are particularly original or nerve-shredding, they do come at a solid and persistent pace. This isn’t the scariest of films, but there are some fun moments that might make you jump, especially during the time Izzy is at home attempting to figure out what is happening with her family. The acting helps quite a bit as West and Dane are solid actors, able to convey the complex themes at work. Once in Hawaii, I think the scares lessen a bit as the folklore of the islands are somewhat simplified and provide too much explanation as to what is happening. The goofy ending doesn’t help in making this one feel potently frightening.
I really dug THE UNFAMILIAR due to the underlying context the story possesses. It’s a smartly written tale that only falls short in the latter half. While the scares lack the punch to make THEN UNFAMILIAR a truly potent shockfest, I do admire the hard work that was put into this one’s script.