A gas station clerk must act as a stranger's eyes in new Blumhouse horror-thriller 'Unseen' [interview]
Director Yoko Okumura and the stars of Blumhouse's “Unseen” spoke with NextShark about personal challenges and the power of friendship before the release of their horror-thriller film.
Jolene Purdy (“The White Lotus,” “Wandavision,” “Orange is the New Black”) and Midori Francis (“Dash and Lily,” “The Sex Lives of College Girls”) star in the movie set to premiere this Tuesday, Mar. 7.
Purdy stars as gas station clerk Sam, who finds herself helping a young woman named Emily escape from her murderous ex — all through a video call. Emily, played by Francis, is unable to see as a result of being drugged and her glasses being broken and needs Sam, a complete stranger, to act as her eyes.
“Unseen” is Okumura’s directorial feature film debut.
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A Japanese immigrant and life-long student of film, Okumura was born in Japan and raised in Minneapolis. She attended the California Institute of the Arts before honing her directorial skills at the American Film Institute. Okumura has said that she loves “showing diversity within diversity” and describes herself as “obsessed with telling rebellious stories through underrepresented perspectives.”
Purdy, who is most known for her work in numerous television series, returns to the silver screen with “Unseen” for the first time in 20 years.
After beginning her acting career in theater, Francis has diversified into film and television and is one of the newest additions to longtime medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy.”
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Last week, Okumura, Purdy and Francis sat down with NextShark and shared insight into the characters and what they hope audiences might take away from the film.
All three women cite personal experiences and challenges as influential to their contributions to the film.
When speaking on the approach to her role, Purdy shares that her difficulties adjusting to motherhood and underlying anxiety informed her portrayal of Sam, who is shown struggling emotionally at the beginning of the film.
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I feel like my character started off just having the worst day ever for the last however many years — hopeless, heavy — just no end in sight, wanting it to be over. And for me, I pulled from my experience having a child and then having postpartum depression, where for 18 months I felt hopeless. I have underlying anxiety, so I lived in that too to build my character.
Francis says personal moments of weakness helped her characterize the intense emotions Emily experiences in dealing with her narcissistic killer ex.
The experience of being talked to a certain way, and being in those moments, not being able to find the words or the strength and then what that would feel like to be able to take your power back — I think that’s something that is very deeply rooted in me, and I was ready to do that and to take that power back and to get in touch with that pain and not to wall in it, but to take faith in your own hands.
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For Okumura, her experience growing up in the U.S. as an immigrant led her to incorporate certain elements of immigrant and second-generation experience into the film’s two main characters.
Originally, the characters Sam and Emily, neither of their ethnicities were specified in the script. I think initially, Emily’s character had a regret that she never went to Italy with her mother for a trip. The basic structure was there, but we just kind of imbued our own details. Specifically, I’m an immigrant and as an immigrant you come to the country and then you just don’t have any connections to your grandparents — you don’t get to see them like your friends get to see their grandparents. I think the regret of never going to see them when they’re in their older age is a very resonant and real thing, so I think it elevated the stakes and the emotional depth and pain that Emily might have. For me, that was a detail that I wanted to add.
The casting of Purdy and Francis, two mixed-race Japanese Americans, also inspired Okumura to make changes to a scene that references Mickey Rooney’s racist portrayal of the character Mr. Yunioshi in the 1961 film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
The scene in question was very different prior to Francis’ casting as Emily, and Okumura says that the two talked specifically about how it would play out differently with Francis in the role.
Purdy, Francis and Okumura repeatedly emphasize the relationship between Sam and Emily as being at the heart of the film.
Although Sam is initially shown as having low self-confidence and a nervous temperament, Purdy expresses that her character is inspired to become stronger and more determined because of Emily’s kindness and words of affirmation throughout their journey.
“I just feel like Sam found worth in herself because she saw someone else find worth in her as well,” Purdy says.
Similarly, Francis says that while she was moved by Emily’s inherent desire to survive, her character’s strength is rooted in her connection with Sam and the “radical empathy” displayed by the two characters.
The fact that Emily is able to display empathy for Sam and that Sam has so much empathy for Emily and that even though they’re both in these horrible states, that they can still care about each other — I just think that’s extraordinary. Because if they didn’t care, none of this would have happened. I love that about these two people. And it’s a great thing to remember. That like no matter what you’re going through there is always room to care. And you don’t know what you’re going to get back if you lean in and you care.
When prompted about what she wishes viewers might learn from watching the relationship between Sam and Emily develop over the course of the film, Okumura said that she would like for the overall takeaway to be that of hope.
If you watch the trailer you might not think that hope is the takeaway from it, but I think this is really a story about: you can save yourself by saving somebody else, that you can really discover what you’re capable of when you’re pushed to the brink and that determination and working together and the power of friendship and power of women coming together is something that I want people to watch. And you know, if there’s something in their life that they feel isn’t possible, that it might be possible if they are able to find the light.
“Unseen” is the second project in a deal between Blumhouse Productions and MGM to produce eight horror films and is set for a digital and on-demand release through Paramount Home Entertainment and Amazon Prime on Mar. 7. It will be available to stream on MGM+ in May.
Watch the trailer for "Unseen" below: