Capsule Review: The Unheard (2023)

Jeffrey A. Brown’s sophomore follow-up to The Beach House sees the director explore the use of sound in The Unheard. The premise seems promising enough: Chloe (Lachlan Watson) is a deaf teenage girl who lost her hearing when she was just a child. She undergoes an experimental medical procedure to restore her hearing and during the long process of recovery, she travels back to her hometown in Cape Cod. It was an old house she used to spend most of her time in her childhood era. Her dad isn’t around at the moment and we learn her mum has been missing since she was only 8 years old. She’s all alone now in the house and the only locals she met include Hank (Nick Sandow), a retired police officer who becomes a handyman and her childhood friend, Joshua (Brendan Meyer) whom she barely keeps in touch.

From there, she starts to hear voices and sounds. They are sometimes clear and other times tend to be muffled or distorted. The movie also features a lot of fuzzy VHS footage of her childhood past, every now and then. Is the experimental medical procedure causing her to hear things that aren’t there or is her missing mum all these years have to do with everything going on?

The Unheard is the kind of slow-burn horror that leans more on the build-up tension and atmospheric visuals and most of all, the movie emphasises heavily on sound. The latter can be creepy and scary and more so if you are streaming this at home with a pair of headphones. While Brown does manage to generate some dread-inducing moments of unease, the movie is too slow for its own good. The biggest problem lies in its protracted 125-minute runtime that overstays its welcome long before it reaches its conclusion. The movie lacks suspense and horror and just about everything feels like it’s all padded just to fulfil its two-hour quota. Besides, for a movie that mostly showcases Chloe being alone in the house and hearing things, there is only so much a movie can do to sustain the interest, let alone the tension. Perhaps a shorter 90-minute duration would have worked better.

It doesn’t help either when the protagonist herself played by Lachlan Watson is someone worth rooting for. Blame it on her role being severely underwritten to the point it makes me feel like she’s going through the motion. The rest of the cast is just as forgettable while the story — credited to Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen, who previously wrote the excellent 2019 creature feature in Alexandre Aja’s Crawl — is shockingly dull. I mean, the central mystery revolving around Chloe’s missing mum and the haunted going-on related to her hearing should have been the intriguing parts. Too bad this isn’t the case since it slogs its way that I even myself almost nod off. By the time the movie reaches the third act with all the inevitable reveals, I already lost interest.

It was a real pity because The Unheard could have been a potentially great horror thriller, especially given its premise.

The Unheard is currently streaming on Shudder.