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In Yoko Okumura’s “Unseen,” in theaters today before an MGM+ release in May, Emily (Midori Francis) is kidnapped, and a stranger named Sam (Jolene Purdy) helps Emily escape her kidnapper through mobile video calling. Francis and Purdy deliver committed performances despite the outrageous contrast of supporting characters Carol (Missi Pyle) and Charlie (Michael Patrick Lane), who look campily deranged throughout the film. Basically, a successful Japanese-American character and a depressed, poor Japanese-American character face white American stalkers whose entire identities center on entitlement and a desire to kill them.

Blumhouse Productions is known for its thriller/horror films such as "Get Out," "Paranormal Activity," and most recently, "M3GAN." This latest low-budget entry could be categorized under their sometimes subgenres of “the horror of whiteness” or “the horror of Karens and Connors.” Despite the joy of seeing repressed characters eventually win, the absurdity of it all makes the film painful to watch. As a shackled Emily is choked and chastised by her ex-boyfriend Charlie, who is yelling, “sing for me,” I questioned if this was the “warm welcome” into Women’s History Month I was looking for.

The futuristic aspect of a video call saving both characters is the movie's hook and insight, but it disguises a relatively generic, inconsistent plot with scattershot hot-button issues used instead of characters. This generic and redundant survival thriller is filled with scary Americanisms like “rednecks” and malfunctioning slushie machines, but nothing produces thrills, insight, or even laughs. “Eat all the Williams Sonoma cheese you want” is Sam's anticlimactic comeback at one point. Nickelback’s “Burn It to the Ground” then plays, and I have never wished for a more possible outcome. The characters, sets, and premise should burn. 

Ultimately, the audience witnesses the unreliability of American police when it comes to saving non-white citizens, and the reliability of them to arrest you in the name of saving a Karen. The responsibility of a basic moral code is placed on Asian communities, and in contrast, makes white Americans’ aloofness another of the film's many unexplored themes. 

The teetering between human morals and saving raging whiteness is not the nuance or duality audiences actually want to face. It is not a reality to tease or promote, but Blumhouse loves to play with this idea even when it doesn't really add up to anything. The film shows that as a non-white American, it does not matter if you are a successful doctor or a poor gas station worker. Whiteness reigns and is relentless unless you have a phone to make video calls to random people that vaguely resemble you. 

"Unseen" should live up to its title.

In theaters today and on MGM+ in May.

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Film Credits

Unseen movie poster

Unseen (2023)

Rated NR

76 minutes

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