" Tell my wife that 2 years in prison camp is roughly equivalent to 4 years of marriage "
— Brad Pitt, Seven Years in Tibet

MRQE Top Critic

Lost in Translation

Free of their usual context, the characters discover themselves anew —Risë Keller (review...)

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In recent years there have been some incisive portraits of the South. David Gordon Green has made three since the late 1990s: George Washington, All the Pretty Girls, and Undertow. And last year’s DIFF prominently featured the haunting documentary Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, which enjoyed wider release after the festival.

The softspoken black man faces the hateful redneck
The softspoken black man faces the hateful redneck

Where these films captured the heart, soul, and pace of the South, The Unseen seems to only capture the language and the stereotypes. The characters have names, but it’s easier to think of them by their type: Harold is the hateful redneck. Roy (Steve Harris, Diary of a Mad Black Woman) is the softspoken black man. Sammy is the blind, retarded brother. There are women, too: Kathleen the redneck, Lucile the desperate one, and the smart one who used to work for Roy’s father.

The stereotypes are bad enough to make this movie “skippable,” but when writer/director Lisa France plays them for laughs — as when the rednecks are fascinated by the news from the Enquirer that Elvis was a triplet — it’s almost painful.

These characters explore several possible stories, but only a few of them are developed into full plot threads. The best one involves Roy naively helping Sammy escape from his brother’s house, where he is kept locked night and day. They walk around town and then drive to Atlanta to try to see Sammy’s mother, all while Harold, who would explode if he knew what they were doing, is out trying to sell his homebrew.

The worst thread has to be the revelation at the end of the film regarding Harold’s past. The hateful redneck’s whole life is excused/explained by a single childhood incident involving his father, who is also a hateful redneck (standing conveniently in front of a wall-sized Confederate flag). As he pounds his hatefulness into the boy’s head, so too are the hopes for any subtlety and nuance beaten into submission.