COMING SOON: The Unfamiliar

So far, 21st Century British Horror has focussed on reviews. In this new series of posts, we take a look at upcoming movies.

The Unfamiliar is the first British film by South African director Henk Pretorius, who co-wrote it with Jennifer Nicole Stang. We’ll be watching it on release day and reviewing it here. In the meantime, here’s the trailer and what we think of it.

The Unfamiliar, by Dark Matter Studios, is the story of a British army medic (played by Jemima West) who comes to believe that her PTSD is the work of a supernatural menace.

In many ways, the trailer looks like a Blumhouse horror with British accents—which is no bad thing—but something different pops up around the one minute mark. In a novel twist, the horrors are drawn from Hawaiian myth, rather than the usual kind of Judeo-Christian tropes. The exorcist you see in the trailer is a kānaka maoli shaman, or kahuna, rather than a medium or priest.

This is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it subverts our expectations of horror. Secondly, it subverts our expectations of Hawai’i. As the director notes, the charming island state is portrayed as “an idyllic holiday destination, with friendly local people that serve tourists. But look closer and you will find a wealth of mythological creatures, beliefs, and mysteries woven into the psyche of the Native Hawaiians… The Unfamiliar explores some of these mythological creatures, combined with ancient ritual.”

The heady mix of Pacific Island horror and British haunted house is, to our knowledge, unique in the genre. Combined with a strong trailer, it’s really whetted our appetites. In recent years, one of the strongest British horrors was Darkness Visible—review to come!—which followed a Londoner to his mother’s home in India. Exploring a new legend (or rather, an underused one) is a great way to keep the scares fresh, and the trailer has those in spades. Even before the kahuna shows up, we’re teased with some classic haunted-housery, and one shocking moment that channels Hereditary. In short, we’re very excited about this film.

In fact, we’re going to put our money where our collective mouth is and make a prediction: in terms of quality and polish, this will join Saint Maud, His House and Amulet as one of the best British horrors of 2020. There’s every reason to be optimistic; Pretorius is an established filmmaker who won awards for his dowry-themed comedy, Fanie Fourie’s Lobola, and the cast is very solid. (In fact, British horror fans may recognise Tori Butler-Hart, who did an excellent turn in The Isle.)

We’ll update this page when we know if we’re right. UK viewers can follow the official account on Twitter and will be able to watch it from 11 September.

About the author

My name is Ellis. When I’m not reviewing movies, I write short stories about ghosts. If you like getting scared in the woods, you might enjoy Deep Summer Magic, which is also available as a free audiobook.

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