Home » The Unsettling is Grief Horror that Lives Up to Its Name [Review]

The Unsettling is Grief Horror that Lives Up to Its Name [Review]

Two months into the new year, and it’s safe to say that The Unsettling is on my list of favorite horror films of 2023. If you’re tired of the recently popular vacation rental trope, give this film a chance to change your mind.

While The Unsettling does fit this storyline, it’s much more. At its core, this film is about grief and its long-reaching effects. The house is just a cage for the content, and adds a layer of depth to the devastation.

This film truly lives up to its title, and lingers in the viewer’s mind in part due to the strong acting. Bambadjan Bamba and Zephani Idoko play the roles of Kwame and Abena, a married couple who suffer an unimaginable loss.

Looking to recover from tragedy, they travel from Ghana to Los Angeles, where they rent a home in hopes of a restoration in their relationship. Not long after their arrival, Abena senses something off about the house. Kwame does his best to ease her mind and is not immediately subjected to the same effects his partner.

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During a dinner in which they reconnect with their local friends, Vivian (Libby Munro) and Anthony (Benedikt Sebastian), the terror increases. Soon after, the house that was meant for refuge consumes the inhabitants with horror.

There’s so much to love about this film. As a fan of grief horror, especially within the structure of family and home, The Unsettling satisfied all of my desires as a viewer.

This is a slow burn done right, from the opening scene to the very end. We’re not shown the full extent of the couple’s loss, but given just enough through brief flashbacks.

The visuals are appealing throughout the entire film. From the brooding mood to the dark tones in the walls of the house, viewers can’t help but feel the couple’s pain. The house itself is sparsely decorated, with bare white shelves, counters and tiles, accompanied by a tiny splash of color. Most of the color comes from Amena’s wardrobe—in my mind, a metaphor of sorts for her attempt to rekindle her relationship and zest for life.

Anyone who’s experienced grief knows it follows no set timeline, despite all of the writings on its stages. Kwame and Abena’s experience reinforces this truth, as it has been two-years since their loss, and they are still deep within the struggle. Another truth about grief is that no two people experience it alike, and this is evident in their relationship.

I’m not the foremost expert on cinematography, but I can confidently say it’s done right here. There are some truly eerie scenes in this film, and the setup is so effective. From long shots down the hallway, to glimpses of character reflection, the timing and distance is excellent.

The character development is strong and the acting believable across the entire cast. Bamba and Idoko carry the weight of their characters’ grief in a way that is palpable to the viewer. A slow burn is not necessarily a bad thing, and in this case it works quite well. A few jump scares are placed perfectly amid frightening flashbacks and moments of realization throughout the film.

Related: Hereditary is an Eerily Accurate Portrayal of Loss

There is some ambiguity in both the background of the storyline and in the ending, but this only lends to the efficacy of the film. The heaviness is reminiscent of what I felt while viewing efforts like Burnt Offerings, The Lodge, or Hereditary. By no means does this title encroach on the others within the subgenre, however. It stands on its own, deserves multiple viewings, and will linger in the minds of those who experience its story.

The Unsettling is available now on VOD and digital.


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