A couple’s guilt around a tragic event in their lives fuels this supernatural horror from Anglo-Ghanaian Director, Harry Owens. The couple in question are Abena (Zephani Idoko) and Kwame (Bambadjan Bamba), who arrive in Los Angeles to recuperate after a terrible loss. Although they appear to love each other, it becomes clear that there is much that is left undiscussed.
Kwame has found them a property they can relax in and immediately gets to work trying to instil normality back into their lives; encouraging Abena to make homecooked meals and, more awkwardly, trying to instigate some form of sexual contact. Abena, meanwhile, wants to explore Los Angeles and have an actual vacation. And therein lies the rub, for Abena this is simply a holiday, but Kwame has ideas of setting down roots in America.
Abena’s displacement in a new country is further heightened by the bumps and creaks that echo though their new abode. While hubby-dearest is quick to dismiss his wife’s concerns that all is not right in the house, Abena becomes more and more sure that there is something in its walls that wants to hurt her.
Those looking for the next Blumhouse production are going to be left wanting. Owens’ focus here is on Kwame and Abena and how they navigate a new chapter in their lives. Ever the outsider, Abena acts the dutiful wife when it appears she would like to do nothing more than tear strips off her husband. This all comes to a head when their friends, now ex-pats, Anthony (Benedikt Sebastian) and Vivian (Aussie Libby Munro) come to visit. As a therapist specialising in trauma, Vivian can see the pain in Abena that Kwame either doesn’t, or refuses, to see. There is obviously some connective tissue between what stalks Abena in the house and what weighs heavy in her heart. Does this mean that everything that’s happening to the couple is merely a manifestation of their guilt? Well… sort of.
The Unsettling is well shot and for the most part blends African culture with a more western gothic aesthetic. Owens doesn’t rely on cats inexplicably jumping out of closed cupboards or other cheap tricks to elicit a scare out of his audience. In fact, at times he appears to bait and switch the viewer, setting them up for a scare they’re sure is going to happen, before slamming on the brakes. With no release, we’re left wondering – and in some cases, fearing – when he’s going to do the big reveal.
However, once Owens shows his cards, the film loses something in the final act as it dips into Insidious territory. It just doesn’t quite gel together and the final reveal, which has echoes of Roald Dahl’s The Witches, doesn’t have the impact that you might be hoping for.
Despite solid performances by the leads and a strong start, there’s something about The Unsettling that leaves you wanting more and not in the way you’d expect.