It’s either a huge oversight, or a stroke of genius to release an independent British film on the same day as Star Wars, and having worked with the effervescent Gary Sinyor last month, and styled him for the London Premiere of his new film, I am convinced it must be the latter.
Produced, written and directed by Sinyor, ‘The Unseen’ is a tense, psychological thriller with a distinct Hitchcock feel and it has received outstanding reviews from early press screenings. The story follows a young couple whose lives are shattered after the tragic death of their son. The mother Gemma, (played by the brilliant Jasmine Hyde) blames herself and starts to have terrifying panic attacks which affect her vision – and the audiences point of view. The couple retreat to an isolated country cottage, loaned to them by a benevolent neighbour, (Simon Cotton) who, it transpires, is not so benevolent. The film is utterly gripping from beginning to end with plenty of plot twists, suspense, and gripping performances by the talented cast.
The film is the first of its genre for Gary Sinyor, who cut his teeth in Hollywood, noteably directing the smash hit comedy ‘The Bachelor’ starring Renee Zellwegger and Chris O’Donnell. Gary has won a host of awards throughout his respected career, gaining him BAFTA recognition, the International Critics’ Prize at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, and Most Promising Newcomer at the Evening Standard British Film Awards.
After making such a splash, it is highly anticipated that ‘The Unseen’ will gain the recognition it deserves and receive an accolade or two during awards season next Spring. This is one of the reasons why Sinyor took a chance and decided to go up against the Disney blockbuster. I think it will also provide welcome relief to viewers who do not wish to be swept up in all things Jedi.
The trailer for the film 'The Unseen' can be viewed here: http://www.internationalexcellence.co.uk/content/unseen-2017-trailer
In anticipation of the big day next Thursday, I caught up with Gary with a few questions of my own about the film:
Why did you decide to make a thriller about such a disturbing subject?
I’m a huge fan of films where the thriller element is psychological rather than physical. I wanted to create a film that would shock the audience and to do that I needed to create a horrific but identifiable scenario. Hence a woman having panic attacks, caused by her own guilt about a family tragedy. And I guess it’s disturbing because we experience the whole film right alongside that woman. We know as much or as little as her.
Why is it important that her panic attacks lead to distorted vision?
The idea that the audience would experience the same emotions as Gemma is at the heart of the movie. To do that I needed to make the film immersive, not Virtual Reality but using sound and image to give everyone the exact same point of view as the central character. It’s a unique idea and very compelling. It’s the opposite of a special fx film really where you don’t really know where to look at on the screen. I wanted to focus the audience’s mind and yet let their imaginations create their own scenarios as to what is going on at any point. My pursuit of that was driven by The Sixth Sense. We all knew something was going on but couldn’t figure out what.
Was it easy to cast?
To be honest, no. I sent the script to a lot of actresses via their agents, in the UK and the US. Generally the script got positive feedback (although one agent did ban any of his clients from reading the script) but finding an actress who would take on such challenging role was tough. Also, as I’m mainly known as a comedy director, I think it was difficult for some actresses to see that I could be trusted to direct a thriller and get strong performances.
How did you find Jasmine Hyde?
I directed a play, a biblical comedy called NotMoses in the West End early in 2016 and Jasmine played the Egyptian Princess and she was hilarious. The Unseen script called for an actress who had a voice that expresses light and dark – and Jasmine’s voice does that brilliantly. She even records audio books, the same as Gemma. And crucially she loved the script and trusted me. She’s got exactly the qualities I wanted in this film. She has a deeply sympathetic quality, a vulnerability and also amazing strength - and she can switch between them in a millisecond.
Is it true Jasmine did her own make up?
Not just her make up but costume too. One of the things I learnt from theatre is that actors have this enormous intelligence and quick-wittedness which they actually exercise daily. In film, the tradition is to mollycoddle actors, but they’re so damn sharp. In the play, Jasmine was doing quickfire costume changes in a matter of seconds night after night so I knew that, although it was hard work for her, really hard work, I knew she’d be up for it. And most women know how to put on make up.
How did you film the “blindness sequences”?
The cameraman would basically be Gemma’s eyes. I’d decide with Jasmine, where I’d want her to be looking in a scene and once we’d rehearsed that we’d then let him effectively “be” her, looking where she’d looked. We filmed on a top notch camera, the Arri Alexa mini - though it’s still pretty heavy.
How did you find the locations?
I’d originally set the film in a lighthouse and I had travelled all over the world looking at lighthouses to film in. There is a really dangerous one in Majorca, Cap Formentor, it’s set on a really steep cliff. And I looked at stunning ones in Puerto Rico and the Canary Islands.
How come you ended up filming in the Lake District?
Well, I abandoned the lighthouse idea. I realised that the crucial thing about the film was the story and the blindness episodes, those were the things I wasn’t prepared to lose. I actually shot a pilot in my house in London and realised that the film would work beautifully set right here in the UK. Then I went to the Lake District and found the Graithwayte Estate and I started to re-write the script scene by scene to work in that specific house. It was perfect because some of the cast and crew could actually stay in the house, and then wake up, have breakfast and start filming.
When did you cast Richard Flood and Simon Cotton?
I cast Richard over the course of a Skype call. He lives in Milan so a meeting was difficult. We chatted and I knew that he’d make a great husband for Gemma. He’s put through a huge amount of emotional turmoil and Richard is incredibly grounded. Plus I needed people to see that Jasmine and Richard are a great happy couple in 2 or 3 short scenes before things start to go wrong and I knew they’d click on screen. His character goes to some pretty dark places and the way that Richard plays Will you always hope that he’s telling the truth.
And what about Simon?
We started shooting on January 16th and I’d met Simon in late December. But then with the holidays and the craziness of pre-production we didn’t actually secure him and then he was on holiday in the Far East and we nearly lost him. What sold me on him and works superbly in the film is that he has charm and menace both in his movement and his voice. He can literally come up the stairs in a way that feels creepy. You never know if Paul is genuine or if Will is a bit deluded. And Richard and Simon are just great at not giving the game away. Up to a point.
Is it true that this is Jim Barne’s first feature film score?
Yes, and it’s amazing. He was a joy to work with because he took the temp score that we put on the edit and we were using Hitchcock tracks and The Sixth Sense, huge Hollywood scores, and Jim not only matched them but he made our score current and modern. And then on top of composing it he orchestrated it and he oversaw the recording in Prague. I’ve never had the nerve to ask how old he is but I know he’s very young and had a long career ahead of him.
What are your hopes for The Unseen?
I hope that it excites audiences and challenges them. I hope that thematically it says something about the frailty of the human condition. All the characters, even if one of them turns out to be a “baddie”, they’re all going through immense pain, and for the first time. I’m interested in what happens to people who are confronted with tragedy, how it affects their beliefs, and whether there is an after life. So I’m a bit obsessed with the big questions that confront us, much more so than people shooting each other over a bag of money. So hopefully the audience will be a little take aback at first, and then in an ideal world it will spark discussion.
The Unseen is released in cinemas across the country on December 15th.