Apr 3, 2020


[For those unfamiliar with the original short story, it's best to go into The Unwanted completely blind. The beauty of the twist exhibited in The Unwanted is paramount to its enjoyment, so this review will avoid discussing it.]

Terms like "hidden gem" were created for films like The Unwanted. A film that slyly avoids disclosing the origin of the conflict at the heart of this story until well into the second act (previous knowledge of the source material notwithstanding, naturally), The Unwanted is so many things tied up into one beautifully mesmerizing package, and it's anchored by extremely brave performances by every major player involved, with the top honor going to Hannah Fierman (the "do you like me?" siren from the horror anthology V/H/S), who it isn't afraid to go, well, anywhere. What begins as a leery and awkward friendship between her and Carmilla (Christen Orr) transforms into something more, and the coming together of The Unwanted's characters results in the revelation that everyone is lying--has been for years--and all have their reasons for doing so. Genre favorite William Katt is on hand as Troy, Laura's long-haired shut-in father, who not only holds his own secrets, but holds perhaps the most dangerous of them all.

The horror genre has always used its various iconography to shine light on social issues. George A. Romero did this with his pack of zombies for sixty years, and The Unwanted is no different. With the debate over gay marriage seemingly in and out of the public spotlight, The Unwanted is sadly relevant almost all the time. With the crux of the story hinging on the love and lust that develops between Carmilla and Laura, and Troy's subsequent reaction to it, the construct of the story has him attempting to root out the "evil" that has plagued his life once before, and appears to be doing so again. What this "evil" is will remain vague to protect the uninitiated, but it's clear that despite the film's focus on this "evil," it's the union between two women--one of those women being his daughter--that he considers to be the true evil. Whatever supernatural/mythical/mystical presence that's alive between the new lovers lends itself in a hypothetical sense and attempts to put a face on this thing that for so long has been presented as "evil" in our pop culture--well, until recently, anyway. While it may be this evil that Troy is trying to vanquish, make no mistake the film has double motives, and both are explored equally and effectively.

The Unwanted lives and dies by its performances, and all involved do a wonderful job. The unusually beautiful Hannah Fierman, with her dark, wide, and slightly haunted eyes, offers a performance that's so much braver, and goes to such dark lengths, that many of her multi-million dollar-earning, A-list colleagues should feel, at the least, embarrassed, and at the most, threatened. She's as under-the-radar as the sea of other wannabe actresses working quietly on their own collection of low-rent horror titles destined for the last row of Netflix's horror section, but it's likely she won't remain there for long--she's that good. Her on-screen counterpart, Christen Orr, is equally compelling, while offering more of a profound sadness than her performance certainly hints at. Though her Carmilla is undergoing a mission to discover what became of her mother, her journey is much more about her own self-discovery than the mystery that's put her on that path in the first place. Carmilla and Laura's mutual awakening is bathed in sadness, a byproduct of each of their own ruined pasts and existences, and their coming together is just as emotionally satisfying as it is devastating.

The Unwanted deserves an audience, but the means in which its filmmaker Bret Wood chooses to tell its story doesn't lend itself to mainstream appeal. Everyone has the capacity to relate to a film in which love and tragedy is the driving point, but much like the very conflict present within The Unwanted, not all of us are capable of acknowledging and respecting that love, allowing us to be driven away by fear--causing us to be alone, which is the greatest fear of all.

If you're at all intrigued by what The Unwanted may offer you, do yourself a favor: don't watch any trailers, and don't read any more reviews. Just dive head-first into this weird, wild, bloody, sad, and sexy world and see how you react. Its intent on taking its time to build the story and establish its characters may not sit well with all viewers, but those willing to take the journey will likely be rewarded. It takes a tired and overdone horror sub-genre and explores it in the most restrained, mature, and beautiful way it possibly could be.

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