UNCONSCIOUS’s opening scene sets us up for some good old-fashion low-budget murder mystery-type fun; the ‘something’s not right’ scenario that has us increasingly more anxious to work out what’s going down. A man (Wes Bentley) and his assumed family are driving along a mountainous road, shot in a washed out, vintage-looking light that suggests it’s happening in the past. The man keeps peering nervously over his shoulder at his (assumed) dozing daughter in the back. He peers one too many times and collides with something suddenly, and next thing we know he’s receiving urgent medical attention seen in first person fluctuating consciousness. Slowly he awakens to find himself in an unfurnished upstairs room of a house, flooded with light from the windows, and hooked up to a drip. His pretty wife (Kate Bosworth) looms over him with a look of concern. “You were unconscious”, she says. What has happened in the interim and why?
The trouble with the film is that there’s nothing more to the story other than “you were unconscious.” Wes’ unnamed character is unconscious a fair few times throughout. If the point of UNCONSCIOUS is to show an unconscious man, then it succeeds. If the point is to examine what sinister things can go on when one is unconscious, then it fails miserably.
UNCONSCIOUS is MISERY meets GONE GIRL minus everything about those films that was unique and horrifying. So just the fish bone carcasses of both stewed together, presented attractively enough but leaving a funny taste in the mouth. The script is verging on embarrassingly underworked, and although Bosworth and Bentley do their best, their characters can’t raise an iota of believability between them. There’s more expression in the three wretched cats that prowl around the house.
As time creeps by and Wes’ character regains his strength and bearings, it doesn’t take long for us to suspect his wife is involved in sinister workings. Bosworth’s character is suggested to be insane by, bizarrely, interjecting normal conversations with trivial facts (about batteries, elephants and so on). All this serves to do is show she has bad social skills, however in the context of a horror movie we can assume we are meant to read her as insane. Because the most important aspect of the film – ‘her’ insanity – is communicated in this way, any potential for depth of character sort of crumbles around it.
She attempts to channel Cathy Bates as the terrifying Annie Wilkes in MISERY, but the coiffed blonde hair, Betty Davis fur coat and clacking heels only works to discredit her psycho-bitch persona. Annie exudes the unhinged obsessive fan with a personality that yoyos from sing-song happy to violent murderess. Kate is more of a Stepford Wife robot on the rampage.
I love psycho women characters. My favourites are, as already stated, Cathy Bates in Misery, Glen Close in Fatal Attraction and Piper Laurie in Carrie (the Brian De Palma one, of course). These characters work because they are human, over-brimming with maternal womanliness and contending with the inky blot of insanity on their ledgers. I love the idea of the first place of safety – the mother, the woman of the house – suddenly being the one thing you need to get away from.
The ultimate psycho woman is Cruella De Vil, ofcourse.
However the saving grace of UNCONSCIOUS is Jayson Crother’s beautiful cinematography, which is at times ethereal. Paired with the music box-like music and ambiguously dated clothing and furniture, an air of mystery and the past is evoked through which the characters glide, confused and misplaced.
Perhaps if the sole pleasure derived from the film wasn’t how beautiful Kate looks in a silk negligee, or lovely the shafts of golden light look criss-crossing in the old wooden house, or how revolting it is to feed the cats slabs of meat on the table top, UNCONSCIOUS would be a more memorable experience.