Thoughts on “The Unwilling”

So, I now return to talking about horror movies that I picked up cheap and watched for the heck of it. This time, it’s “The Unwilling”. The thing about this is that this movie has a lot going for it. It has a good cast, a good premise, and a title that can have a clever double meaning. However, it doesn’t really manage to leverage those benefits and so seems to fall short of its potential.

Again, I think this is relatively recent, so I’ll continue below the fold:

“The Unwilling” starts from an interesting premise. Or, rather, it starts from two interesting premises, which is probably the first hint of why the movie is not as good as it could be. The first premise is the idea of an evil supernatural entity that gives people what they most desire as a way to weaken them so that the entity can possess them and live on through them. The second premise is the one that is highlighted on the box cover, and is about a willed supernatural legacy that tests the members of a family by promising them their greatest desires but, in granting them, destroys them. The problem is that neither of these are really pursued. The first premise is really what’s happening, but what we know about for most of the movie is the latter. The supernatural entity possesses someone early, but what we don’t know is that the evil of the person who willed them the supernatural box was, in fact, caused entirely by that entity until late in the movie. By that point, we don’t really have the investment to be really scared about that entity, especially since we don’t really know what it can do.

This carries over into the movie itself. For the most part, the movie seems to be more concerned with hitting standard horror movie tropes than it is about telling a coherent narrative. In short, for all of the promise of its premise, it doesn’t seem interested in teasing that out coherently. As an example of the tropeyness of the movie, at one point they have a long scene where Darren, the drug abusing cousin, is trying and failing to drive away from the house, and keeps ending up back at the house. Fine. Except … he wasn’t trying to escape. He was just trying to get to his drug dealer to get some drugs. He ended up frustrated, but not scared. And he doesn’t use that as an argument to show the others that there’s something scary happening. He comes back into the house after that long sequence, the box offers him drugs, he takes them, and is possessed. They could easily have cut that scene out completely and moved from him commenting that he really hits a hit to the box offering it without losing much, and saving time they could have used to play out the threads that they dropped but never picked up on.

Like the OCD of the guy who is, potentially, the main character of the movie. It’s there, they reference it repeatedly, but it never really pays off. At one point, they suggest that they end up inside the box because of his desire to be locked away from the world, but that’s never really followed up on. And they really could have used the time to set up and make the relationships clear instead of having to exposit in the middle of other conversations to tell us basic details … like that two of the characters are brother and sister when I thought they were mother and son. It’s to the credit of the movie — and the actors — that they manage to pull it off without it seeming too artificial, but these things get mentioned explicitly at the point where it is too late for us to care about them, and/or are never followed up on so we aren’t really sure why such a big deal was made of them that they had to be explicitly explained in the movie.

On that note, the cast does a really good job. I’ve liked Dina Meyer ever since I saw her in the TV series “Birds of Prey” and she does a good job here, but Bree Williamson as probably the female lead works well to establish her character as competent, caring and generally likeable. David Lipper does a good job playing the OCD character, and all of the others really do seem to carry their roles. The problem is that there isn’t enough plot to work with.

Which means that the main supernatural threat ends up being confusing, rather than mysterious. Rather than them entering into these bargains knowingly — like the father potentially did — from the start they end up accepting these things without having any idea that they are making any kind of a deal. So, then, why does the entity have to offer them anything at all? And at times it offers them things to fight the entity and then possesses them, which means that while they were being as good as possible the entity was still able to possess them and take over their bodies. How? What sudden weakness is it exploiting that allows it to do so that it use before they, at least, took the thing it offered? It’s not at all explained and makes little sense.

This leads me to consider what I’ll call “Virtue Horror”, which is the sort of horror where evil is not overwhelmingly physically powerful, but is instead seductive and manipulative. This horror works on the idea that the people could resist it, but the temptations are so strong that they won’t. So, then, you can have a virtuous hero or heroine who can resist the blandishments of the evil, and thus can see how the enemy can be defeated without having to contrive some sort of Macguffin or Hail Mary play. If it’s done properly, you leave the audience finding it entirely credible that that person would overcome the evil … while also leaving them convinced that, in the same position as the characters in the movie, they themselves wouldn’t be able to resist. The box cover promises that this movie would be that sort of “Virtue Horror”, but it really isn’t one. Even the final scene isn’t really about strong virtue overcoming the evil temptations, and people who were more virtuous and even acted more out of virtue still manage to succumb. This leaves the movie unsatisfying as “Virtue Horror”, but because the entity kills more through possessed agents than through supernatural means and the supernatural elements are rather pedestrian there isn’t really anything else to provide the horror and satisfaction. Add in that they don’t explain how the entity works and the movie, at the end of the day, really just seems like wasted potential.

As usual, after watching it I looked to see what others thought of it. This review agrees with me, although he likes the movie less than I did. This one liked it better, but I didn’t get the same implications from the movie as they did.And this one loved it, but I think that they missed the part where the people were possessed by the entity.

At any rate, in the final analysis I might watch this movie again at some point. It was entertaining enough for most of it, mostly due to the performances, and on a rewatch I’ll expect the disappointment and so avoid that.

One Response to “Thoughts on “The Unwilling””

  1. Why Do I Watch Horror Anyway? | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] found some interesting things in horror, at least to me.  I’ve talked about the idea of Virtue Horror and how that works.  I’ve mentioned the issue with suspense and how it can’t […]

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