Review: The Unheard Offers More Psychological Thrills than Stabby, Scary Ones

From director Jeffrey A. Brown (The Beach House) and the writers of Crawl and John Carpenter’s The Ward, Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen, comes The Unheard, the story of a young deaf woman named Chloe (the ethereal Lachlan Watson) who undergoes an experimental surgery that is meant to restore all or part of her hearing. She takes her recovery period to spend time at her family’s beachfront home, which she and her father have decided they are going to spruce up and sell. We also learn that Chloe’s mother (played by Michele Hicks, whom we see in faded home movie footage) disappeared when Chloe was just a girl and the family was last at the vacation home, leaving everyone with lingering questions about whether the mother was kidnapped or abandoned them.

As her recovery progresses, two things become clear: her hearing (which she lost when she had meningitis as a girl) is returning almost back to normal, and the process seems to have opened her up to picking up things beyond the realm of normal human hearing, including possibly voices and sounds from the spirit world. Along her journey of both exploring the house and figuring out what exactly she’s hearing, Chloe meets a few locals, including the local handyman, Hank (Nick Sandow) and an old childhood best friend, the ever-watchful Joshua (Brendan Meyer) and his ailing mother (Boyana Balta). We’re also made aware that there have been a string of disappearances locally for many years, so it’s entirely likely that a couple of the characters in this very small cast are the likely suspects in these crimes—so be prepared to have that reveal be in no way shocking.

I’m fairly certain director Brown’s intent with The Unheard is to scare us until we pee our pants. In fact, there are almost no actual scares in the film beyond a couple of loud sound cues that are meant more to illustrate Chloe’s returned hearing than anything terrifying. But the low-level tension and fairly engaging mystery of the mother’s disappearance keep things interesting, despite the film’s overlong runtime (very few horror films of late can justify a running time of longer than 100 minutes; this one is 125 minutes). While big scares aren’t in the cards here, the filmmaker keeps a foreboding, sometimes threatening atmosphere at play that really adds to the experience of watching Chloe figure out the now-noisy world around her.

In addition, Brown’s use of sound (or lack there of for big stretches of the movie) combined with Watson’s truly moving performance gives us the best sense of what Chloe is going through, both in terms of her hearing and her psychology. The impact is uniquely unnerving and exactly what this film needs to get us into the head of the protagonist. The film’s climax is a bit of a letdown, as it turns more brutal and stabby and less introspective and psychological, but when taken as a whole, The Unheard still mostly works and helps solidify Brown as a filmmaker worth keeping an eye on.

The film is now streaming exclusively on Shudder.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.