Sonic Horror The Unheard‘s Scares Are Buried by the Runtime’s Static

Movies Reviews Shudder
Sonic Horror The Unheard‘s Scares Are Buried by the Runtime’s Static

There’s no worse feeling than watching a movie—like Jeffrey A. Brown’s The Unheard—deflate like a wilting balloon animal. There’s no such thing as a length requirement, but lofty duration ambitions must be earned. Frustratingly, our captivation evaporates as The Unheard wastes an aesthetically intriguing tale that gears sound designed to its hearing-impaired lead. The technical merits and performance strengths are beyond competent here, but that’s before the 90-minute mark washes everything in the dullest shades of unsustained tension.

Lachlan Watson stars as twenty-something Chloe Grayden, who’s just undergone an experimental procedure to restore her damaged hearing. She arrives at her family’s Cape Cod cabin for recovery purposes, isolated during the off-season. The only locals left are handyman Hank (Nick Sandow), who has a direct line to Chloe’s father, and an ex-playmate from Chloe’s childhood named Josh (Brendan Meyer). All is going well as Chloe’s hearing miraculously improves, until she starts experiencing auditory hallucinations that usher in the film’s brand of psycho-sonic horror.

Writers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen take their time establishing Chloe’s journey as a successful patient, genre elements with bladed edges, and supernatural influences through grainy camcorder footage. There’s a point where these subplots collide, and The Unheard reaches its full potential, but Brown struggles to balance the previously divergent tracks until the culminating third act. Chloe’s reintroduction to sounds like fizzy soda dominates screen time, while a serial killer element is but a timid flash in a pan with lukewarm oil. By the time Brown engages with the hybrid phenomenon of audible horror distress, our patience has already been drawn to its thinnest. Slow burns still have to bring some heat.

Watson is an innocent party as Chloe, played to the utmost between the character’s soundless beginnings and eventual wide-eyed, wonder-filled banging of pots and pans like musical instruments. The Unheard allows Watson to mine the depths of perseverance and adaptiveness until they’re asked to switch gears when re-opened to a world of sound. It’s an admirable lead performance that fights hard to keep the momentum charging forward, as the film splits time between their co-stars and recordings of Chloe’s parents. Watson’s performance deserves better, especially from the film’s lackluster tonal command.

The Unheard delivers on moments but can’t figure out the larger puzzle. Messages between radio squeals and white noise tease chilling vocalizations from the beyond, but their placement becomes lost in the shuffle. Watson navigates Chloe’s evolution well, only for the character’s impact to weaken because the more high-intensity moments of danger–otherworldly or earthly–vanish for long spells. There’s tremendous amounts of fat left on the bone, given how the story’s dry material becomes harder to chew on the longer we’re planted in our seats. Brown angles towards a tell-all finale packed with the answers we know are on the horizon after what feels like a slow-motion buildup that exemplifies all the worst tendencies of a slow burn.

Running times are not a predictor of quality, but in the case of The Unheard, they act as a warning for future filmmakers. There’s visible talent in this misguided sensory thriller; it experiments proudly and executes like molasses spilling downhill. Brown gets lost in the Rasmussens’ script and snuffs out excitement, needing another few days in the editing bay. There’s too much movie without any pulse, and not enough third-act resuscitating to save an otherwise long-winded mystery that’s solid performances are lost in the static.

Director: Jeffrey A. Brown
Writer: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Starring: Lachlan Watson, Michele Hicks, Brendan Meyer, Nick Sandow
Release Date: March 31, 2023 (Shudder)

Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.

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