It’s not uncommon for film to offer a catharsis in an environment far safer than any other. Emotionally, audiences go on a journey — can be comical or horrific or anywhere in between — and when the credits roll, everyone’s the same as they were when they started, yet different. Like how audiences go to a certain type of horror film to get scared in a communal surrounding knowing they’ll be safe or how something hilarious is made all the more joyful because others are around to enjoy it with you. The latest film to offer a type of purging is writer/director Gary Sinyor’s (The Bachelor) latest film Amaurosis, originally titled The Unseen, which mashes together elements of drama, thriller, and the supernatural to explore grief and the healing process. When firing on all cylinders, Amaurosis will absolutely gut you, which is why the missteps are incredibly frustrating. On the whole, Amaurosis is a uniquely painful experience whose emotional trauma lingers even after it’s reached its end.
When Gemma Shields (Jasmine Hyde) isn’t reading books at a local bookstore or recording a new audiobook, she’s spending time with her devoted husband Will (Richard Flood) and their son Joel (Harrison O’Donnell). When tragedy strikes, rather than process their grief, Gemma and Will seem to hold onto it until it manifests in terrifying ways. For Gemma, it’s the loss of her eyesight; for Will, he hears Joel’s voice. Becoming more and more emotionally lost, the couple accept an offer from new friend Paul (Simon Cotton) to leave town and stay in a cottage adjacent to his house in a remote area far from the city. It’s a chance for relaxation, renewal, and reconnection, but the longer they stay away, the worse things get for both, making each one wonder if something from beyond is calling them home.
If you’re unfamiliar, amaurosis fugax is a real condition in which a loss of sight occurs due to restricted blood flow. Of the many ways in which an individual might experience this, Sinyor appears to replace high blood pressure for panic attacks, though one might certainly cause the other. In doing so, Sinyor makes the affliction self-induced, creating a physical manifestation of Gemma’s metaphysical journey. Taking it a step further, Sinyor applies a first-person perspective each time Gemma finds herself experiencing an episode so that the audience feels the same disorientation she does. Consider this a trigger warning for anyone with light or image sensitivity as the distortion affect he applies is immediately upsetting. This is more than a gimmick as Sinyor weaves in sight and sound triggers throughout Amaurosis, some of which send both Gemma and Will reeling and crawl under the skin of the audience. The technical application is measured, never going so far into one direction or another so as to keep the audience, along with the characters, unsure about whether what is being experienced is real. The one thing the audience knows for certain, given the forced perspective, is that Gemma’s reluctance to process her grief, to face it and heal, offers an opportunity for something malevolent to enter her life, potentially tearing it asunder. With both physical and metaphysical aspects at play, Sinyor cleverly creates an opportunity to explore how grief can manipulate our senses and the purification of acceptance.
Though there are several characters in the film, Amaurosis focuses on three: Gemma, Will, and Paul. After the initial sight/sound tease with the title, the first character audiences meet is Hyde’s Gemma. Though the assumption is that the film is about the couple, everything revolves around Gemma and Hyde shoulders the responsibility beautifully. Even as the film shifts tone from drama to thriller to supernatural thriller, Hyde grounds it all with incredible believability. Some of this goes to Sinyor’s writing, which finds clever ways for Gemma to react in her varied circumstances, but it all comes back to how well Hyde conveys her deep well of pain and responsibility. As her frequent scene partner, Flood is equally up to the task of handling the tonal shifts, presenting a husband and father struggling to come to grips with his new reality. For his part, Cotton does as fine job as Paul, portraying him as too kind, too agreeable, too willing to help than makes sense in the circumstance. Of the characters, Joel is the only one the audience doesn’t truly connect and this seems on purpose. There’s only one scene in which Joel is physically present and, even then, the audience is only given a partial view. The rest is a vocal performance from Daniel Sinyor. Typically, a drama of this type would want the audience to emotionally connect with the child before the loss, which makes Amaurosis stand out from the pack. One tends to wonder if this is intentional, making Joel both a cypher for the audience and a persistent specter for his parents.
The biggest issue with Amaurosis is the ending. Everything that occurs is a lovely blend of the genres to the point that everything the audience experiences with Gemma is as untrustworthy to us as it is to her. As a result, the tension is high and Sinyor finds clever ways to continually escalate without exceeding a rational level of danger for the type of film he’s crafted. That said, where the film ends is so strange — a sequence shot almost like a peaceful dream — that it’s hard to tell if any of it is real. Sinyor’s crafted characters who are clever and full-bodied individuals, offering the audience just enough to believe in the supernatural and question what they see and experience. However, the final sequence is either intended as a lighter means of ending Amaurosis, a mirror to the tone of the opening; a way to conclude which offers some sense of closure on the characters journey; or these final moments aren’t real at all.. Either way, considering the slick badassery which occurs moments before, the sequence feels strangely out of place.
Considering the subject matter of child loss, Amaurosis is by no means an easy watch, thematically. Director Gary Sinyor adds to this by implementing visual and auditory cues that do more than immerse the audience into the film, but terrorize them as much as they terrorize the characters. Despite all of this, much of the film is deeply satisfying due to Sinyor’s smart writing and Hyde’s compelling performance. Even if the conundrum of an ending pulls you out, it doesn’t take anything away from everything which preceded. In that regard, Amaurosis finds ways to manifest a tactile enemy from which Gemma can not only forgive herself, but conjure a way to move on.
In select theaters and on VOD beginning May 17th, 2019.
Available for streaming via Amazon Prime Video now.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.