Alice Oscura – Featured Writer
The Unfamiliar is a British indie horror film from South Africa directed by Henk Pretorius. Jemima West (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) stars as a British army doctor turned soldier Elizabeth (Izzy) Cormack. Everything begins with her return home from Afghanistan. It soon becomes apparent that apart from her physical scars, she is suffering from PTSD. The character has to deal with a strong sense of self guilt over leaving her family, including her baby daughter, to serve her country. However, she soon realises that she needs to step up and protect her family from a dark force threatening to consume them.
The plot starts unfolding from the very beginning without any character development and at times it can make the performances of the supporting cast seem a bit wooden. The film uses elements of Hawaiian folklore that grips the audience with some interesting reveals. The all-around tone and atmosphere are dark and foreboding with some excellent tricks of the eye in order to build the tension and suspense. There are not many jump scares but when they occur it really comes out of nowhere and they are nicely timed.
We are also left to guess for quite a while as to whether or not Izzy is seeing things due to her PTSD or if they are hallucinations caused by her medication. Was her stressed out mind still trying to readjust to her change of surroundings? The film seems to be an allegory for the effects of PTSD on the family unit and how difficult it is for a family to deal with a member serving in an active war. The time and distance can change even the strongest individual and upon their return home they are sometimes unable to cope with civilian life without proper professional treatment. In a way I believe that the demons represent the guilt that Izzy felt about leaving her family and they slowly manifested taking root and infecting them one by one.
I thought it very important to mention that it was refreshing to see the reversal of roles here where the woman is the one who takes charge of the situation as soon as she discovers that something is not right. Izzy at once sets out to protect her family even though the seeds of doubt are trying to be put into her head via some minor gas-lighting.
The standout performance by young actor Harry McMillan-Hunt, who plays the role of Izzy’s son Tommy, shows that he possesses the skills needed to lure you into that feeling of wanting to protect his innocence. Children in horror movies are rarely seen as positive beacons as they usually end up as conductors of whatever evil is trying to be vanquished.
Lastly, the special effects do an extremely good job of keeping the audience off kilter and they certainly grab one’s attention. Several times during the film you might be caught holding your breath. Not a bad effort here at all. Sometimes you find that these independent films have a lot more substance than the big budget blockbusters.
Rating: 6 out of 10
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Dark Alice has an old soul and a curious mind. I believe that anyone can be a hero and that the good guys should always win! I dislike cruelty to animals and think that they have far superior qualities to humans. My motto is there is no future without the past. I also have a weird penchant for Paranormal TV shows even though the slightest sound makes me jump.
I enjoy writing reviews and throwing in fun facts to pique the readers’ curiosity. My ultimate goal in life would be to become a published writer one day. You can find me as Dark Alice Reviews on Facebook, my Instagram is alice_oscura and my Twitter handle is @lise_veliz2. For more on me you can click here.