Based on its new trailer, The Unfamiliar looks to court comparison with American supernatural horror. But is that a good thing?
The trajectory of mainstream horror over the past decade has skewed toward the simplistic and straightforward when it comes to titles. Think Annabelle. Think Insidious. Think Sinister. Even the masterful Get Out was declarative in its thesis. Now, like The Conjuring, The Unfamiliar is looking to throw its hat in the supernatural ring.
I must say: The Unfamiliar is a great title, but with it comes a certain challenge. In a genre that grinds through trends long after there’s nothing left to grind, to what extent can a contemporary haunting tale give us something we haven’t seen before (and done better)?
So, while the title is appealing, the new trailer for The Unfamiliar doesn’t really offer up anything we haven’t seen before. Wife and mother returning home from deployment? Check. “Seeing things” (in this case, spirits drawing stick-figures on fogged-up windows)? Check. A line where the husband asks if his wife has taken her pills? Check. The call for an exorcism as the editing quickens and images of demons/monsters briefly coalesce? Check-check.
I can give this a bit of leeway, as contemporary horror-trailer-making has become less about any sense of craft and tease factor, and more about springing jump-scares on viewers. If this didn’t work on certain audiences, studios obviously wouldn’t continue pursuing this particular marketing avenue. I’ve sat in many a theater where ticket-holders considered the loudest possible reaction their civic duty.
And the fact that this is a UK production is also positive. Whereas the aforementioned Blumhouse horror came to dominate American multiplexes with its “low budget, guaranteed profit” mentality, British horror tends to possess a more stately sensibility, with more space allowed for pacing, craftsmanship, story, and character. The Ritual , for example, proved a solid import that garnered much fanfare upon its Netflix premiere.
The fact that the script is co-written by Jennifer Nicole Stang is another plus. Stang was the writer and director of the effective 2018 short, The Whistler, which reconsidered the Pied Piper tale through a contemporary lens (you can stream it on Shudder).
So, while the trailer for The Unfamiliar may not be overly impressive on the surface, the behind-the-scenes details leads me to think it might be worth a look. After all, genre conventions are transfigured and exceeded constantly – it just depends on how they’re handled.
What do you think of The Unfamiliar? Is it worth a watch? Let us know in the comments.