Unrest cover

STUDIO: Lionsgate
MSRP: $19.98
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
• Commentary w/ director and editor
• Behind-the-scenes featurette
• Trailers

The Pitch

Quetzacoatl meets The Exorcist in med school!" or, "How Not To Dispose
Of A Corpse."

The Humans

English, Scot Davis, Joshua Alba, Derrick O’Connor.

The Nutshell

Blanchard is an atheist, or possibly an agnostic. (The script doesn’t recognize
the difference.) But she’s not one of those callous, distant atheists that you
see on streetcorners yelling about how gay people deserve all the misery of
marriage; no, she’s an atheist who wants to help people, who wants to become a
doctor. On her first day of Gross Anatomy, she finds herself in a group with a
vaguely spiritual fellow (Davis,) a possible Catholic, and a jackass. As they
begin dissection on their cadaver, Alison comes over all queasy, sensing a
presence she’s not felt since…

afterward, people begin dying, and strange Aztecan symbols appear in bloody
writing on the walls. Can Alison resolve her spiritual crisis before the whole
med school gets brutally murdered? Just how many deaths does it take to change
one’s religious orientation?

"Don’t know what to say / The monkeys won’t do."

The Lowdown

wretched at remembering quotes and attributing them correctly, but there’s one
line from The Simpsons that has stuck with me for years as being at once
irreverent and pointed. In the episode "Treehouse of Horror II," the
aliens Kang and Kodos invade an Earth that has become completely peaceful, and
thus unable to resist. The line comes during the invasion, when either Kang or
Kodos brandishes a board with a nail in it and screams, "Your superior
intellect is no match for our puny weapons!"

Pardon me
while I wrench that quote out of context and manhandle it into this review. Unrest
is a horror film in the mode of punishing the unbeliever, or the skeptic. It’s
not an uncommon theme. The characters who don’t believe in the spirit world are
hounded by specters and bloody will until their edifice of rationality has
crumbled. They recognize their hubris, and rectify it, usually in time to save
their own lives. Their superior intellect succumbs to blunt force trauma.

This particular
tradition of horror has enough content to inspire a whole sociology book, but
in the interest of playing to my strengths (which include only a minor in
armchair cultural analysis,) I’ll say that the premise of Unrest follows the
supposition that truth is an irrational quantity, which can not be approached
from the intellect alone. No, you can’t bend your considerable deductive powers
to the hauntings you suffer; you have to sit in front of a psychologist and
make bold declarations along the lines of: "I don’t know how, but I just feel the presence of spirits."

Take a textbook and have a seat. When it’s your turn, chapter eleven will start to bleed.

that’s not a direct quote, you won’t find any significant depth beyond such
statements anywhere in Unrest. It’s a strictly
surface-oriented type of thriller, where character motivations get kind of
retconned in during the third act, religious discussions come verbatim from
philosophy textbooks, and no sympathy is encouraged for the frequent deaths.

The two
leads, English and Davis, have a sweet chemistry between them, which makes for a
decent enough hook for the audience’s attention; but here’s the thing: the only
risk that either of them run is suspension from med school. In a formula where
disbelief crumbles under brutal evidence, Alison risks nothing except an
elevated heart rate. For no discernible reason, the spirit that haunts the med
school saves Alison for last, essentially externalizing what should be an
internal struggle. Alison is, herself, never in any danger, except for the
superficial sort.

A decent
atmosphere is created and maintained throughout the film, but that, again,
hovers as a skin over the meat of the thing. The two leads, the mood, and the
wonderful cadaver effects all skate around on the surface of what ought to have
been a core of horror, but the ice never cracks. The terror never takes form.
Instead, the audience gets yet another cautionary tale about believing yourself
capable, administered with all the grace and incisiveness of a board with a
nail in it.

"Gracie is pregnant."

The Package

The full
length commentary track, featuring writer/director Jason Todd Ipson and editor
Mike Saenz, is lively and entertaining. One of the neat aspects of the film’s
creation was the team’s ability to shoot many scenes in a real medical
laboratory, with real corpses, which the two men reference frequently. Ipson was at one time a med
student himself, so he peppers the commentary with his memories of school, and
pulls out those elements which made it into the script. As a personal aside, I
prefer this type of swiftly-moving, energetic commentary to, say, those given
by Oliver Stone (particularly on The Doors,) even though they don’t
have as much in honest-to-god insight.

The disc
also contains a quick behind-the-scenes featurette.

5.5 out of 10