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“THE UNWANTED” (DVD Review)

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Writer/director Bret Wood’s moody microbudget melodrama THE UNWANTED (out now on Blu-ray from Kino-Lorber) has been met with general critical indifference since its release. Too glacial in its pacing, too light on hard sex and violence for many horror movie hounds and too modestly financed to thrill those looking for a glossy arthouse piece, THE UNWANTED is certainly an anomaly and doesn’t fit comfortably anywhere, really. That, of course, is part of its fascination; it’s a film that goes against convention and has a strange power that is hard to shake.

Shot as CARMILLA, the film is indeed a riff on the influential erotic horror story penned by Irish writer J. Sheridan LeFanu, the same source that has long-served as the blueprint for many a lesbian vampire opus, from Jess Franco’s VAMPYROS LESBOS to Hammer’s THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, to Vincente Aranda’s THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE and beyond. But unlike those sweaty, violent gothic romps, THE UNWANTED doesn’t revel in the graphic; instead, Wood is intently focused on creating an aura of mood and mystery. The tale is updated to the contemporary American South and deals with the young Carmilla (Christen Orr), following a long cold trail left by her missing mother that leads to the doorstep of small-town farmer Troy (William Katt of HOUSE and CARRIE fame) and his daughter Laura (hypnotic V/H/S beauty Hannah Fierman). It’s clear Troy is keeping secrets about the woman’s disappearance and it’s that central mystery that connects Carmilla and Laura, as they bond and search for the truth. Along the way, their relationship turns romantic then sexual, then parasitic, much to Troy’s chagrin…

Plot isn’t the central concern of THE UNWANTED and the viewer should know this going in. Rather, Wood spends a bulk of the brief running time focusing on the relationship between the women and the slow unraveling of Troy. Along the way, Wood’s eye meanders around tranquil visages of pastoral beauty while composer Paul Mercer’s haunting, moody guitar and vocal driven score assists in sculpting the environment. This is a real Southern Gothic three-handed tragedy complete with taboo sexual couplings, implied incest and psychological horror, crafted with care and restraint.

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Now that said, THE UNWANTED isn’t without problems. On a technical level, some of the ADR is off, with obviously post-dubbed dialogue sometimes awkwardly synched to the actor’s lips; this isn’t ultimately a deal breaker as the best of the European erotic horror films are dubbed affairs and, if anything, this just adds some accidental odd texture to the film. As far as sex is concerned, for a film so elegant in its approach to carnal knowledge, having no nudity would have been refreshing; instead Wood offers some awkward scenes of the actresses topless and faking sexual contact, scenes that are too shy to go all the way and end up just kind of awkward. It would have been far more sensual to simply have them kiss or embrace or show their ecstasy in other ways more fitting to the film’s gentle tone.

The performances are good, with Katt skillfully finding the humanity in a man who obviously loves his daughter but is plagued by his own demons and Orr channeling the intelligent sensuality of Julianne Moore. But THE UNWANTED is really Fierman’s movie. With her massive brown eyes and full lips, she is an alarming physical presence, both vulnerable and aggressive. If nothing else, watching her on screen only makes one long to see more of her on screen.

Recommending THE UNWANTED to general genre film fans is a tough one but for those who appreciate slow, emotional and meditative films that value ambiguity over defined narrative, there is plenty to appreciate here. And for some reason that this writer cannot even properly articulate, I can’t seem to forget it. And that’s a very good thing…

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About the author
Chris Alexander

Author, film critic, teacher, musician and filmmaker (not to mention failed boxer) Chris Alexander is the editor-in-chief of FANGORIA Magazine. He got his first professional break as the “Schizoid Cinephile” in the pages of Canadian horror film magazine RUE MORGUE before making the move to FANGO in 2007. His words have appeared in The Toronto Star, Metro News, Wired, Montage, The Dark Side, Tenebre and many other notable publications and he appears regularly on international television and radio.

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