The Unheard movie poster

The Unheard

In theaters March 31, 2023

, ,

125 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: , , ,

In The Unheard (2023), Chloe (Lachlan Watson) returns to her family beach house to undergo treatment for her hearing loss. Deaf from the age of eight after a bout with meningitis, she has spent the last 14 years grieving not only her hearing loss, but the sudden disappearance of her mother. As the treatments to restore her hearing show results, she relishes the return of the normal sounds of life on the water. There is however a downside, and that would be the noises trapped in the walls and floorboards of her family’s home. In town, she meets and reacquaints herself with childhood friend, Joshua (Brendan Meyer), who tends to his invalid mother (Boyana Balta) while he makes money doing handyman stuff around town. Family friend Hank (Nick Sandow) pops in from time to time to make sure she’s getting along okay in a town that is empty of summer people and fading into fall. There are flyers of missing girls and women in the local general store and no one Chloe encounters can be categorized as friendly.

Her hearing appears to come back in stages and we’re treated to some clever audio effects that first give us an ear’s-eye view of her condition and its progressions as the treatments seemingly to begin to work. Interspersed with Chloe’s reacclimation to life as a hearing person, are grainy memories of her youth as if viewed on a very worn VHS tape run through a player that hasn’t been cleaned in years. Some of these memories are being viewed on a badly maintained VCR on tapes undoubtedly warped by humidity and age, but there’s entirely too much of it. Flashbacks do not make a plot.

Is Chloe suffering from auditory hallucinations brought on by her overtaxed brain making sense of returning input? Does the ghost of her childhood haunt the family homestead? Doesn’t drilling holes in the ceiling affect the resale value? This is a long 124 minutes, and a large chunk of that is spent watching an unhappy woman watch grainy VHS tapes or maybe hearing noises that may not have been completely expressed on the screener I watched. I am willing to entertain that the audio track was mixed in such a way that my middle-aged ears could not pick up the ambient noises, but I don’t think that’s a marketing ploy anyone wants to seriously entertain.

The Unheard has the same deliberate pace as Jeffery Brown’s 2019 environmental horror, The Beach House, but The Unheard lacks the cohesive storytelling necessary to keep the paranormal elements from drifting apart in a stiff breeze. We know Chloe is troubled and her hearing is compromised, and we know the town is isolated and dealing with lots of unsolved disappearances. The problem is those two concepts are running on parallel tracks in divergent directions. Chloe is such an unreliable point of view, that everything that happens for two-thirds of the movie could easily be her mind folding in on itself, which would be fine. That’s over an hour of her waking up on the floor or staring at a television screen or creeping about in the dark with a knife. I love a good atmospheric movie, but The Unheard needed more story and way less atmosphere.

Just as we begin to get a handle on the is it/isn’t it a ghost story issue, we move into to some medically unethical territory, and then the film promptly falls apart. Whether there was a rewrite or massive editing, The Unheard becomes moored in a new story with a new threat for which there is zero context. At the conclusion, it feels unfinished and wholly unsatisfying. None of this is the fault of the principal actor as Lachlan Watson navigates the loneliness of Chloe’s condition in a dreamlike isolation. The problem is Chloe doesn’t have anything to do, making her condition her entire personality and giving her a two-dimensional feel.

The Unheard had a lot of potential to either be a movie about the frequencies of paranormal and supernatural sounds, or a movie about a serial killer preying on Island townies (you know, for years). Not having a solid bridge between those two points, or even a ferry with a temperamental motor leaves The Unheard adrift in a sea of what could have been.

The Unheard (2023) is unrated, but call it PG-13 for medical procedures involving ears, bleeding ears, sudden loud noises, abduction, people getting stabbed, and violent blows to the head.

The Unheard is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.

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