Studio: Tandem Arts
Director: Thomas Jakobsen
Writer: Thomas Jakobsen, Justin S. Monroe
Producer: Justin S. Monroe, Aaron Moore
Stars: Zack Gold, Jason Tobias, Bennett Viso, Bob Turton, Jake Crumbine, James C. Burns, Cooper Harris, George Ketsios, Michael Mercurio
Four men bring their drug addict friend to the woods for a camping retreat and end up hunted by an unknown assailant.
As one might expect for an addict, being a junkie brings Michael a wide range of problems. The biggest involves stealing $12,000 from a dangerous drug dealer for the supposed benefit of his fiancée Jess and their unborn baby. The smallest is habitual flakiness causing Michael to miss his own Las Vegas bachelor party in favor of a spoon, lighter, and tourniquet.
Best buds Alan, Louie, Shane, and John have a make-up celebration in mind for their soon-to-be-married mate. It’s a colossal downgrade from the lap-dancing luxury of Sin City, but whether he likes it or not, Michael is joining the men for a weekend of roughing it in the California wilderness. Caught off guard by this surprise camping camaraderie, Michael’s nose candy supply is dwindling fast and maintaining a sober exterior is becoming an excruciating challenge. That’s soon to be the least of his worries, once Michael’s groomsmen begin vanishing one by one, and start returning with hoods on their heads and nooses around their necks.
POSSIBLY MILD SPOILER
What is happening and why? It is difficult to discern exactly how much of “The Unraveling” is meant to be a mystery, since its secret seems invented by Samuel Morse. The movie’s main misstep in selling suspense is giving one too many clues hinting at what is really going on. Cut out a conspicuously cryptic line and several furtive glances during the friends’ first fireside chat and less suspicious viewers might stay in the dark longer, even though the most casual Holmes would still catch on. Once the scent is sniffed, details arriving after continue confirming suspicions of the twist to come.
While the film flops as a Shyamalan head-scratcher, it still works as a tight and tense thriller. Knowing what is in store for the climax doesn’t automatically make getting there any less interesting, and the film’s intrigue doesn’t hinge on the reveal being successful. A crude comparison could ask, is “Planet of the Apes” unentertaining when one knows in advance that the planet is Earth?
Nothing that happens in “The Unraveling” is out of the ordinary for a trapped in the woods chiller, but the progression of plot points keeps the pace unpredictable. There is also little use arguing against accusations of the film having a familiar feel with its single-file line of victims dispatched by an unseen predator, except this particular woodland outing has a maturity separating it from typical slasher tripe.
Michael and company are indeed celebrating a makeshift bachelor party, though not one of them qualifies as the usual whoo-hooing beer-chugger inspiring eye rolls through obnoxiousness. Michael’s drug-related sketchiness notwithstanding, all five men are (mostly) responsible adults keeping machismo at a minimum, and all five actors do a believable job of making their friendship feel genuine. Resembling a cross between Chris O’Donnell and Jason Patric, Zack Gold has Michael’s convincing characterization down cold as someone sneaky, yet sympathetic. Bob Turton rivals Gold in the “he looks like…” game for the uncanny imagery of Matthew Lillard he brings to mind.
“The Unraveling” presents its style simply, being almost too straightforward with initially worrisome lines like the clichéd, “you promised you wouldn’t do this anymore” followed by “I don’t have a choice.” Then the script quickly settles into a rhythm regarding story development more organically. For instance, the audience can’t even collect all of the character names until a fair deal of the plot has already moved forward. This is because the script isn’t fighting to force feed exposition by cramming “Hey John” at the start of a sentence or “remember when…” to shoehorn backstory. Exchanges feel natural.
For a threadbare thriller on an indie budget, “The Unraveling” looks good and moves well. Shocks, scares, and suspense are not reliant on bloodshed or sensationalism. There is nary a drop of gore to be found, violence is not excessive, and the intensity is never too extreme. In spite of this, you never even notice how PG-13 the movie is since it is irrelevant to the broader function of purposeful entertainment.
That’s not going to attract anyone in search of a convincing conceit or more unique oomph in their horror, but appreciate “The Unraveling” as effective escapism instead of a puzzle to be solved and everything turns out alright in the end. Lean, clean, and compact with more motivation than most, “The Unraveling” is a refreshingly respectable piece of streamlined suspense cinema.
NOTE: There is a mid-credits scene.
Review Score: 75