One of the 'Eight Films To Die For' (essentially a mini-horror movie festival put on by Lion's Gate and After Dark), the marketing blitz behind Unrest would have you believe that it's 'the first movie to use real corpses.' While that's a patent fabrication (They Call Her One Eye and The Hunchback Of The Morgue both supposedly use real honest to goodness cadavers in key scenes), it shouldn't deter anyone from checking out what is a surprisingly intelligent, pensive and creepy little low budget movie.
The film revolves around a medical student named Allison Blanchard (Corri English) who teams up with three male students - Brian (Scot Davis), Carlos (Joshua Alba) and Rick (Jay Jablonski) – for her gross anatomy class, lead by Dr. Walter Blackwell (Derrick O'Connor who is recognizable from Brazil and Daredevil). The three guys tease Allison a bit at first, she's a little on the squeamish side and doesn't feel right about working on a cadaver. Brian is more sympathetic than the other guys, and it doesn't take long before he and Allison start up a relationship together. As time goes on, she starts to wonder about the corpse, that the group has named Norma, more and more. She's curious about why she has what appear to be self inflicted scars on her torso and her face and how she wound up as a 'Jane Doe' in a morgue and she decides to try to figure out her story on her own.
The more Allison, with help from Brian, starts looking into things, the more unusual things start to get. Everyone who seems to come into contact with the body is having odd things happen to them, from the deaths of the two morgue workers to the death of one of the lab partner's girlfriends; it seems that Norma isn't happy about what's being done to her. Allison figures if she can get to the bottom of Norma's story she might be able to help her spirit, but the problem is that the corpse came from over five hundred miles away and isn't local to the area.
Unrest starts fairly quietly, building the two central characters up enough that by the time things start to get weird, we like them enough to care. Allison is a sympathetic lead and Corri English does quite a good job in the part. Her interactions with the rest of her lab partners and the dialogue they exchange while involved in the dissection feels realistic rather than forced, probably thanks to director and co-writer Jason Todd Ipson's background in the medical field. While the boyfriend-girlfriend subplot doesn't really add much to the main plot, it does allow the movie to make use of some eerie audio effects and it fleshes out the characters just a little bit more.
The movie also makes excellent use of its hospital locations. Anyone who has ever been in a morgue knows that it's a naturally eerie place to be and the film really does quite a good job of capturing how bleak and unsettling they can be. The scenes that are shot in the morgue feel appropriately cold and the realistic cadaver effects that are shown in quite a bit of detail add to the morbid atmosphere that the film puts to good use. The score, which starts off rather subdued and then builds as the story progresses, also works well. It goes a little overboard towards the end considering how subtle the first half of the movie is, but not so much that it really hurts the picture, instead it just reminds us that t this is a horror movie after all. The movie winds up hitting a nice mix of supernatural and ghostly activity alongside a bluntly realistic look at what actually happens in gross anatomy class, itself a morbid and horrific subject.
Unrest isn't perfect – parts of it are slow and the aforementioned relationship scenes feel a little tacked on, but it certainly gets enough right that horror fans who are in the mood for something a little different will want to give it a look. While the last twenty minutes or so deliver traditional horror movie scares, the first part of the movie is very much a 'slow burn' and so those who want their scares to come quickly might be a little put off. Anyone with a bit of patience and the willingness to think about the movie as it plays out, however, should find this one fairly rewarding.
Unrest has been given an appropriately sterile looking color scheme. This is not a colorful film, most of the wardrobe, sets and locations are faded green, brown and gray – they're not pretty looking. In the context of the story, this works fine as the hospital winds up looking just like a hospital and Lion's Gate's 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer does justice to the bleak looking visuals. Detail is fine in both the foreground and the background of the picture and there are no problems with mpeg compression artifacts. No edge enhancement was apparent though there was some mild aliasing. Thankfully this doesn't overpower things at all and for the most part, the movie looks fine.
Audio options are supplied in both Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, English language only, with optional subtitles provided in English and Spanish and with an English closed captioning option provided for the feature only.
If you've got the hardware to handle it, definitely check out the 5.1 mix on this disc as it adds a lot more depth and a lot more atmosphere to a few important scenes in the film, particularly towards the end of the movie where the chanting on the soundtrack starts to build. The 2.0 mix is strong enough on its own but the 5.1 uses the rears to enhance the scares and the otherworldly atmosphere quite a bit and to spread out the mix across the entire room. Bass response is strong and tight and dialogue is consistently clear and easy to follow. The score sounds quite good and the effects are mixed into the film nicely. Nothing to complain about here, this mix is solid all the way through.
The main extra feature on this release is a commentary track from director Jason Todd Ipson and editor Mike Saenz. This is a pretty active discussion that does a good job of both explaining various aspects of the story that you might not pick up on the first time around (the Aztec connection being one) and how the movie was shot, cast and assembled. They talk about shooting in the hospital in the Salt Lake area, where some of the ideas came from, why various performers were chosen for their roles and more. This is a very active track and Ipson dominates it, which is fine as he keeps things moving nicely and talks about odd little details such as how motion sensors ensure that at night time, in less populated parts of the hospital, the lights will follow you, switching on when you get near and turning off when you get farther away.
Aside from the commentary, the only other substantial extra is a behind the scenes featurette entitled Unrest: Behind The Scenes. This is basically a bunch of behind the scenes footage narrated by Ipson who talks about how the idea for the film came from his own experiences in the tunnels underneath the hospital where he used to work. There are also some bits that are narrated by the performers over top of some of the effects technicians doing their thing and various people being interviewed for brief periods of time on camera. This is presented fullframe and most of this material looks like it was shot on a handheld camcorder but it's a worthwhile examination of what it was like on set and how this was all put together. It's also interesting to hear about a death scene that had to be cut from the finished version of the movie.
Rounding out the extra features on this release are trailers for the feature and for other films in the Eight Films To Die For series, animated menus and chapter stops.
Unrest is a genuinely interesting and thought provoking horror film. It manages to make you think about its subject matter without feeling preachy or academic and it also manages to pack in a few quality scares, some nice atmosphere and a decent amount of gruesome effects work. Lion's Gate's DVD looks and sounds quite nice and while the extras aren't as plentiful as other releases in the series, they're still worthwhile. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.