Perhaps the most appropriate real world testament to Unrest‘s multiple strengths is the fact that even with the added distraction of a dozen or so progressively louder drunk people on Friday the 13th, it still managed to be a fascinating, well acted story of med student terror that also happens to be one of the best independent horror films in years.
Staring relative nobodies (Corri English, Scot Davis, Josh Alba, Jay Jablonski) under the direction of an even lesser known Jason Todd Ipson, Unrest is made of that rare breed of honest, intriguing enthusiasm that seems to only recently exist in films born of these very circumstances. An original, kinetic, inventive tale of medical students entering their first hands-on lab at a university morgue, only to be assigned a cadaver whose arrival at said university just so happens to be accompanied by unexplained death and a generally fatal case of the heebie-jeebies.
Corri English, who poses an odd beauty deeply more appealing than any of the studio teen scream "queens", is the most receptive to the obvious spirit(s?) at play. As more people either go missing or mysteriously bleed to death, she becomes obsessed with finding out just why or how this American woman, who died in Brazil, ended up on their steel table.
The characters are not deep enough to classify the film as a character study, but they have enough weight to them to sell the audience on the investment. The script and the charismatic Corri English are the hook that cause you to care, which in turn allows you to ignore some of the more under-developed aspects of the movie. Such as the fact that English takes her shirt off more than once in a situation in which shirt removal really wasn’t all that necessary. The crowd – and by that I mean the aforementioned drunk people in my living room – ate these moments up, but they’re as needlessly humorous as they sound.
That and the music, a somewhat steady growl of jungle chants, doesn’t inspire the same thoughts of spiritual mysticism the filmmakers were going for. This is probably wholly due to the indoctrination of the theme music of Survivor into American culture (or at least mine, since I watch it every season), but it eventually just sounds silly and breaks tension more than helps build it.
But the makeup effects and some great supporting performances compensate tremendously. If you give the film a glance on the imdb or various other online sources, there appears to be a common perception that this film used real dead bodies. Frankly, I call bullshit on that. The film was shot in an actual morgue, so perhaps a dead body that was at the building for legitimate medical purposes found its way into a background shot, but the main corpse who provides such anatomical angst is surely a work of silicons and kayro syrups. It often looks real enough, but the filmmakers were clearly too, well, good natured to disrespect a human like that. Also, it seems the same people claiming this have also cited Nacho Cerda’s brilliant Aftermath as having used genuine dead bodies – of which it did absolutely no such thing.
There are many set pieces and props which give the film an undeniable sense of authenticity. So much so that I’m now convinced some morgues really do have giant fish tanks of dead people. Logic and sense of human decency would suggest they probably don’t; and I have nothing save for a guess one way or the other, but Unrest incorporates that freaky little detail so wonderfully that it becomes perfectly believable, if not down right practical, while simultaneously landing itself as one of the most memorable scenes in the movie.
It is this persuasive sense of realism that makes Unrest so successful. Director Jason Todd Ipson was once a med student himself, which justifies much of the detail, but regardless of the man’s medical aspirations, he is a fully functional director. While most Indie filmmakers simply try to do what Raimi, Craven or Jackson did in their early years, Ipson strikes a subdued path of his own.
Were it made in the ’80s, Unrest would be a regular film title in the library of horror classics. Today, however, it will be destined for cult levels of fan love. Perhaps too slow for the masses and too restrained for the splatter hounds, Unrest will likely not be for everyone. Regardless, After Dark films chose wisely with the decision to adopt the low-budget (but never cheap) film during its inaugural theater experiment. Aside from the Abandoned, this will probably prove to be one of the best choices the fledgling house will ever make.
I recommend it with ease and calm knowing full well this is a unique treat for those tasteful enough to appreciate it.