Faust has been the inspiration for countless films about those who make a pact with the devil to get exactly what they want but end up making a great sacrifice for their gains. There’s always a loophole “gotcha” moment. While this has nothing to do with the theme of the movie The Unseen it might be found in the story of one of the film’s stars Alison Araya. If the actress were to design an ideal situation for herself, it would be The Unseen. While Araya has made numerous appearances in blockbuster films like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Watchmen (and many others), this was her first major role. Alison’s portrayal of the fearless Moll who is involved in a same sex relationship drew great praise from critics. She even got to act opposite one of her adolescent crushes (Aden Young as Bob Langmore) in one of the film’s most climactic and prominent scenes. Everything was perfect except…wait for the twist…The Unseen is an action/sci-fi/horror story and Araya is one of the most squeamish individuals on the planet. A self-described chicken who can’t make it through the horror film trailers at a movie theater, the actress found herself in a perfect environment save the very premise of the film. With no way out of it and too much to lose by passing on The Unseen, Araya bit the bullet and accepted the role as Moll. Alison and the entire audience benefitted from this decision. The film itself was a resounding hit whose recognitions include: two Canadian Screen Awards nominations, eight Leo Awards nominations, selection of the Molins de Rei Horror Film Festival and Vancouver Film Critics Circle, and wins at the Other Worlds Austion SciFi Film Festival, Molins de Rei Horror Film Festival, and others.
While The Unseen is based on the lore of The Invisible Man, it’s a very different and unique take. Writer/director Geoff Redknap didn’t want to update the already familiar story with new actors and VFX; he wanted to create an entirely different focus. The Unseen dissects the idea of how this fantastic situation would affect the family of the person in this very odd circumstance. The inclusion of an ex-spouse, children, extended family members, etc. is similar to looking at a 3-D picture where your eyes cross and present a totally new subject…one which was previously invisible. The character Moll is the partner of Darlene, ex-wife of Bob who has literally disappeared. She is stepmother to Eva, Bob and Darlene’s daughter and has become fiercely protective of her new family, particularly when it comes to Bob. The actress portraying Moll would need to be both fierce and tender. Redknap stipulates, “Alison stood out during the audition process. She was fierce but what captured our attention was the vulnerability she bought to the role. She could have easily played a mere foil to her step-daughter but instead Alison’s multi-layered performance brought a greater depth to her own and the other actors’ performances. Alison was not afraid to go head to head with Aden Young and they created one of the most climactic scenes in the film. We knew we ‘got it’ when the air felt like it was buzzing with the electricity of the performance Aden and Alison had just given.” Producer Katie Weekly confirms, “It was important to find an actress who could carry the gravitas of Moll. We were looking for a dynamic and strong actress who could also play the vulnerability of the character. Alison bought nuance and passion to the role and really made it her own. A different actress might have played Moll as ‘the bad guy’ but Alison brought such life to the character that her transition from the beginning to end of the movie was much more satisfying.”
Moll could have been presented in a variety of ways; it was this fiercely loyal woman who protects her family and her partner that attracted Alison to the role. Moll is deeply in love with Darlene (played by Camille Sullivan) and has completely bonded with and come to love Darlene’s daughter Eva (played by Julia Sarah Stone) from Darlene’s previous relationship with Bob as her own. Being the woman in Darlene’s life, Moll has a chip on her shoulder when it comes to Bob. A drifter and absent father, Moll has seen firsthand the pain Bob has caused and will stop at nothing to protect the family she calls her own. Moll is stunned when she discovers that Bob is back in town and Eva is missing. Suspicious of Bob and the company he keeps, she pursues the truth and the two. When Moll is finally let in on the family secret, she is able to make peace with the relationship Bob and Darlene will always share and relaxes with her place in Darlene’s life knowing there are no secrets. The story is family drama with a very substantial secret ingredient.
In one of the film’s most intense scenes, Alison was called upon to do something that has been common place for her in numerous productions, exhibit the signs of seeing something that wasn’t there; which is both literal and figurative when you are in a movie about an invisible man. She recalls her process noting, “I remember struggling with that particular moment in the film, when I had to react to seeing something shocking and new to me. I remember trying to figure it out intellectually and I wasn’t getting anywhere. Then I just closed my eyes and visualized what was in front of me. Immediately my body reacted and I understood on a visceral level what was real for me. I love moments like that because we don’t always have it worked out in advance. Some moments stump me and they challenge me to look deeper into my tool belt or think outside of the box. There is no one path to the truth of the moment, there are infinite paths it’s a matter of knowing which one to follow on any given day.” One thing Araya wasn’t confused about was working with her co-star Aden Young. She admits, “Working with Aden was a career highlight for me! I was a huge fan growing up in Australia; Aden has always been on my radar. I had a huge crush on him after watching “Black Robe” and when I saw his name on the cast list, I could hardly believe it. Aden was so generous and really invited me to get inside the ring with him and go for it…and we did! It was exhilarating and scary and live. It was incredibly fulfilling and I hope to have many more moments on set just like that. I held it together and kept it very professional but there was a younger version of me inside that was going crazy with excitement.”
The Unseen as a film is contradictory; not in the sense that it doesn’t line up in terms of story or production but rather that this movie about the unseen is made so believable by what is seen. It’s not overuse of VFX or trickery that makes it compelling, it’s the performances of Alison and her cast that pull us into believing this very fantastic situation is as real as any discomfort a non-nuclear family experiences. The filmmakers ask us as the audience to buy into quite a bit and it’s the performances onscreen that make it much easier to be at ease with and suspend our view of reality. What is seen in The Unseen looks very good.