The British horror film The Unfamiliar begins with Army doctor Izzy (Jemima West) returning home after a tour of duty. She’s ecstatic to see her family – husband Ethan (Christopher Dane), stepchildren Emma (Rebecca Hanssen) and Tommy (Harry McMillan-Hunt), and her baby – but something’s not quite right. Tommy is acting aloof and odd, seemingly hating his family members. At first, Izzy attributes the strange things she sees to PTSD. But too many false memories and eerie happenings occur for it to be just her suffering.
After some spiritualists investigate the house, they discover that there’s an ancient and evil entity determined to tear this family apart. Why is this happening? What can Izzy and her family do to protect themselves? Will the audience care?
“…there’s an ancient and evil entity determined to tear this family apart.”
Movies like The Unfamiliar are the most frustrating to review, not because it is especially terrible. But rather because it is so safe, bland, predictable, and just the right side of competent to be forgettable. See, a good to great movie is easy to write about due to the praise, even if some flaws are present. A terrible movie is often fun to discuss, as getting creative in the way this or that part of the film is a travesty allows one to let off steam. But style-less compositions with a journeyman sensibility behind the lens? There’s little to say about such titles.
Directed by Henk Pretorious, and written by him and Jennifer Nicole Stang, The Unfamiliar has one original thought, that it tantalizingly dangles in front of the audience before quickly abandoning the idea. See, Ethan was researching Hawaiian legends and folklore but switched gears to a children’s book. Now, explaining every reason he decided to go in a different direction would be a spoiler. But, the idea that Ethan abandons his research for fear coming across as appropriating the culture is floated about.
Imagine my excitement when the movie takes this route. An ancient deity decides to teach the lesson to some well-off white folks attempting to profit off of another culture’s myths and identity. That is a recipe rife with possibilities. Now, imagine my dismay when that idea is moved to the back burner, and the haunting involves a long-dead former resident and a neighbor. It devolves into something that has been seen before in a much better fashion.
"…The Unfamiliar emerges as all too commonplace..."