While Unrest has its share of eerie moments and appropriately hideous gore, the most interesting aspect of the film is its production, as documented in the DVD's continuous commentary track with co-writer/director Jason Todd Ipson and editor Mike Saenz.
Unrest effectively exploits the sterile environment of a first year gross anatomy class, which Ipson experienced before shifting to filmmaking at USC, and it's done in a fairly unselfconscious fashion; one initially gets the impression of a director wanting to establish himself as a filmmaker of note by obsessing on graphic minutia, but according to Ipson, the purpose was to immerse the audience in the hands-on gore that interns must face when part of their training mandates the examination of a formaldehyde-pickled cadaver over a 6-month term. Ipson's focus on measured pacing and an actual learning envirtonment gives the film a lot more credibility than the fun but heavily stylized German shocker, Anatomie / Anatomy.
Dissecting a cadaver is one way to deliver a few memorable money shots, and the labyrinthine Salt Lake City hospital is the perfect locale for the director to taunt and torment each character, forcing a young woman to wonder if she's next.
Much of the expansive underground tunnels and deserted hallways are underused, however, and part of that apparently stems from producers who felt a more European pacing – emphasizing mood and going for a slow build towards grisly horror – would've harmed the film's tempo and delayed the thrills expected by horror audiences.
In his engaging commentary with editor Saenz, Ipson describes the early edit which contained longer tunnels shots, and in works like Nattevagten / Nightwatch (1994) were central to establishing the isolation and foreboding quadrants which that film's nightwatchman had to face when doing the rounds of a large, super-cooled morgue.
Those moments of vulnerability and fear just aren't sufficiently mined in Unrest, and their minimal use in the final edit also indicates the structural problems in Ipson's feature film debut. At the core is the lack of any hints regarding the link between the possessed cadaver and the angry Aztec spirit – something murkily alluded to in Michael Cohen's nicely composed but repetitive orchestral score and choral arrangements; and subliminally in the audio mix for the film's pre-credit sequence that was part of some reshoots.
Ipson has intern Allison periodically expressing her sense that something is very bad about the group's cadaver, but her repetitive warnings are stretched far too long before the script suddenly burps up the angry Aztec spirit connection, setting up an increasingly silly series of deaths and bloody finger-paintings that are more comical in their pudgy etchings than terrifying.
The film also becomes clunky due to some continuity gaffes: a subplot involving an investigating cop was dropped, yet his cadaver suddenly appears in the tank; and another victim seen at the beginning of the film shows up dead in a shower stall, confusing the actual time that's elapsed since Allison's first Gross Anatomy class.
What follows, though, is an appropriately grotesque race to dispose of the possessed body parts, although the film quickly coasts to a predictable conclusion and a lackluster twist ending – which, at this stage in the narrative, is expected, given the film was edited with a clear aim to keep a steady pace.
What the commentary track certainly presents to us is an example of savvy film school graduates who've taken the first steps towards learning the craft of feature-length filmmaking, and while Unrest has its failings, it's very much a step above the generic, highly impersonal fodder that clutters DVD shelves and masquerades as a feature film productions of merit.
While Maple's DVD doesn't include some of the deleted scenes described in the commentary track – a missed opportunity – there's a short making-of featurette with clips from a few dropped moments, and the usual clips of actors in synthetic gore.
This film is part of an 8-title After Dark Horrorfest series from Maple / Lions Gate, which includes Unrest, Wicked Little Things, Penny Dreadful, The Hamiltons, The Gravedancers, Dark Ride, Reincarnation, and The Abandoned (2006).
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan