Written and directed by Zachary Donohue, in 1949, World War II veteran Thadeus Wilcox left in the middle of the night from his idyllic San Francisco home with his wife Fanny and her sister Mabel to a remote property in the Mojave Desert known as Silent Creek. Compelled by visions of a strange alien species, The Wilcox family spent the year attempting to make contact – but in that time, they would draw the unwanted attention of other more malevolent and unspeakable forces. Starring: Chris Voss, Ally Avey, Sarah Eisenberg, Kimberly Ables Jindra, Kevin Swanstrom and Garrett Schweighauser.
There’s one inherently smart thing that Zachary Donohue achieves with The Unknowable and it’s mining from the wealth of archive footage that’s available. Then using that footage to fit your own narrative and not in a way that absolutely perfect but in a way that’s free-flowing and even has an edge of humour to it. The eagle-eyed classic film fans in the audience may even be able to name some of the excerpts used. It’s a really clever way to make a project, especially one like this which feels like a wonderful homage to silent cinema and the 1940s era of crime and suspicion. Especially when you’re then littering it with your own footage with a greatly matching aesthetic.
Donohue adds in just enough to bring these eccentric characters to life but keeps that feel of hugely varied footage driving things forward. It’s then elevated further by the narration (by Sean Burgos) which hits the tone of classic true-crime documentaries ridiculously accurately. Burgos gives it just the right amount of weight without ever feeling over serious and it leads you through this story with a captivating, authoritative and charming tone.
It’s a genuinely delightful surprise how well this story works, the chapters were a nice choice to accent the passing of time and the characters are intriguing. There’s a great blend of sci-fi, horror and mystery, it has a lot of elements which feel like a superb nod to The War of the Worlds. One of the best things it does is find that ratio of having plenty going on but not too much. It’s a common problem with projects like this to become either convoluted or obsessed with effects and The Unknowable completely avoids both of those issues.
The Unknowable is both a sweet homage to classic film and a captivating mystery. It hits the note of capturing old-fashioned true-crime documentaries right on the head, it’s pitch perfect. There’s a good story at work to keep you engaged and it has a superb mix of filmed segments and archive footage. The blend of the two create an atmosphere that’s entertaining, unusual and a touch funny. It’s a very smart way to put together a story and it works extremely well, and is highly recommended for any classic film fan.