A Southern gothic retelling of Sheridan LeFanu's Carmilla, The Unwanted stars Hannah Fierman (V/H/S) as Laura, a vulnerable young woman beguiled by a drifter (Christen Orr) who has come to her rural town in search of clues to her mother's disappearance. The two women uncover dangerous secrets kept by their mothers, arousing the suspicion of Laura s father (William Katt, Carrie, TV's The Greatest American Hero) who will go to shocking extremes to ensure that the family's dark secrets remain buried.
"You think that's going to make you happy? I got a feeling it wont."
Marketing can make or break a movie. As we've seen with the box office results of 'Terminator Genisys' a trailer needs to not only represent the film, give the audience an idea of what its about, but also accurately depict the film without making an audience think they're going to see something else. If you're going to market your movie on the idea that it is a "Southern, gothic, lesbian, vampire, horror movie" it needs to capitalize on all of those elements. 'Unwanted' unfortunately puts all of those plot devices into a pot but forgets to let them cook.
Carmilla (Christen Orr) is a drifter who wanders from town to town looking for any scrap of information that could lead her to the whereabouts of her long lost mother Millarca (Kylie Brown). Since Carmilla never knew her mom, she's just trying to get to know her rather than have an out and out family reunion. When she arrives in a sleepy southern town, she goes to the last known address Milarca had. This just so happens to be a farm belonging to Troy (William Katt) and his young dark-haired daughter Laura (Hanna Fierman). Troy tells Carmilla he's never heard of her, but both Laura and Carmilla think otherwise.
After Carmilla puts in a request to the local police department to see any and all reports pertaining to the property, Troy finally comes "clean." It turns out Millarca was a bit of a troubled spirit, a gypsy of sorts who would wonder from one place to the next without telling anyone where she was going. While this was a half-truth, Laura remembers a few more details. As it would happen Laura's mother Karen (Lynn Talley) and Millarca were closeted lesbian lovers who would sneak off to Millarca's trailer leaving Troy to take care of himself and his daughter.
Again, this new information turns out to only be part of the truth. As Carmilla and Laura probe deeper into their respective mothers' shared history, they too become lovers. As their passions grow so does the animosity from Troy. As they fall for each other, Carmilla and Laura unexpectedly expose more of the truth Troy has been hiding. As a result, Troy becomes increasingly violent and the two young women become convinced Troy is more involved in Millaca's disappearance than he'd had previously let on.
'The Unwanted' is one of those horror thrillers that tries too hard to do too much in a short amount of time and in the process stops being a thriller or a horror film. Writer director Bret Wood does what he can to infuse the material with a lot of themes and interesting ideas, but unfortunately the end result feels like someone took a bunch of darts and threw them at a board full of plot devices. The darts that stuck are the ones that made it into the film. While 'The Unwanted' starts out strong, the main mystery never really comes to fruition. The primary issue with that are the red herrings that fail to spin the story off into a different direction. It's pretty clear from the outset what happens and there is a lot of visual telegraphing that kills a lot of the suspense.
While the cast is all around solid, their character arcs leave a lot to be desired. William Katt's Troy plays the protective father role well enough, but when he's expected to become unhinged and dangerous, he becomes cliche and comical. Then you have Christen Orr's Carmilla and Hanna Fierman's Laura and their interplay. At first things feel genuine like two women who meet in a small town and become friends with a common goal - but then they're expected to fall in love. The character turns are sharp lefts and very sudden, and almost too convenient for them to all of a sudden be lesbians after they've both said and done things to suggest they're not. Then they start drinking each other's blood. I'm just going to leave it at that because I can't really make much sense of the need for this plot device as it happens for all of two minutes and is dropped shortly thereafter.
I like to give a movie points for trying hard to actually be something, but when the material is just too thin to structurally support its plot, the film can just become an unintentional mess. By the time 'The Unwanted' comes to its final act it's become difficult to understand why things are happening. I get what is going on, what a character is doing and their motivation behind said action, but the "why" it's happening as an element to the overall story is a bit of a mystery. Why does Carmilla see and interact with flashbacks of what happened to her mother like they're happening in the moment? Why does Carmilla go along with the blood drinking but say "no more" moments later? Was that element even needed? There is some wonderful spiritual imagery in the closing moments, and the film works overall, but with some plot trimming and character work, the finished product may have lived up to what it tries to bill itself as. From my stand point 'The Unwanted' isn't very gothic, it's not really a horror film, and yes there are lesbians and they do drink blood - but they don't need to so they're not really vampires. It's a hard movie to come to like. At the end of the day it was just so-so. It tries hard to be something, but what it wants to become remains elusive.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Unwanted' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Kino Lorber and is pressed on a BD50 disc. Housed in a standard Blu-ray case, the disc opens directly to a static main menu. On the reverse side of the cover artwork is alternate poster designs giving you three to chose from depending on how you orientate the artwork.
Shot digitally, 'The Unwanted' turns out to have a very strong 1080p 1.78:1 presentation. Some people may be put off by this movie's appearance as it has a very "video" look to it, but thankfully other attributes of the production redeem it. Color is robust and offers a genuine vibrancy that really lets primaries have their moment and various shades of green get a lot of presence. Detail levels are often striking, but occasionally there is an odd softness to the image. The focus was pulled in some places to the point that only an actor in the foreground is in detail leaving everything else a soft blur. While this wouldn't be too much of an issue, with the level of detail the image offers, it can leave the movie looking flat, almost like a pop up book where someone was shot in front of a greenscreen - only they weren't. But that's the only real trouble spot to report. No compression issues like banding seem to exist and black levels are nice and inky creating some nice depth for the picture with little to no crush trouble.
I wish the audio had faired as well as the picture. The LPCM 2.0 stereo track for 'The Unwanted' betrays the movie's independent picture roots. My wager is a lot of this film was shot with a lavalier microphone as the primary recording device. So much of the film sounds like it's missing the audio of another performer, like they're just out of range for the mic to pick up their voice. This isn't a horrendous problem as often you can tell what someone is saying - it is persistent, noticeable, and distracting. As a result the rest of the sound design suffers. The movie can sound natural and layered one scene and the next sound tinny and artificial like sound effects and voices were recorded in a can inside someone's shirt. The first half of the film is pretty solid, but when scenes towards the third act get a bit more dramatic, the sound becomes much more inconsistent.
The Other Half : (HD 17:19) an early short from from Writer Director Bret Wood - a lot of the same themes are on display here and it works for the length.
Carmilla: Looking Back: (HD 9:26) The cast and the crew talk about the film, the genesis of the project, casting, and what it was like to shoot.
Deleted Scenes: (HD 13:29) it's hard to say if these scenes would have helped some of the story or pacing issues as they're mostly scene extensions, but some of the material here works to clear up a lot of what is happening during the latter half of the main movie. Some of these scenes should have remained, it'd have helped the show quite a bit.
Trailer: (HD 1:07) A decent enough trailer, but it gives away virtually the entire movie inside of 67 seconds.
Trailer: (HD 1:23) A little bit longer trailer that also gives away a lot of the movie.
'The Unwanted' isn't a complete train wreck, but it's hardly the masterpiece it aims to be. For a low budget horror thriller it does well enough, but some of the plot elements are bit too overstuffed and bring the movie down a couple pegs. The cast is strong and they do their best, but their performances aren't quite enough to raise this flick above a mediocre grade. The video is pretty fantastic but the LPCM 2.0 track betrays the movie's independent roots and can be a bit iffy in places. With a fine swath of extra features I'm calling this Blu-ray from Kino Lorber as being worth a rental. 'The Unwanted' isn't a movie for everyone and then only the ardent fans are probably going to consider this one for a purchase.