By Mindy Day
AsAmNews Staff Writer
Quentin Lee’s The Unbidden, breaks tradition with the run-of-the-mill horror film. Screened at the San Diego Asian Film Festival presented by Pacific Arts Movement, viewers were delighted to meet and discuss the film and female Asian representation in entertainment with many of the cast and crew. Despite a twelve day shoot, severe budget constraints, and actors new to the horror genre, The Unbidden utilizes a variety of common horror tropes while adding a complex web of interpersonal relationships between the characters. Starring acclaimed actresses Tamlyn Tomita, Elizabeth Sung, Amy Hill, and Julia Nickson, The Unbidden is unique in that all the main characters are women, and Asian.
The film features two casts, beginning with the elder Lauren Lee (Tomita), a successful writer, who struggles with severe trauma and mental illness. She calls on her friends to visit her after a strange series of events occur at her home. After their arrival in the evening hours of October 30th, the visit turns from seance to exorcism as the friends seek to liberate Lauren from the spirits that haunt her. The appearance of a young man with a gun (Hayden Szeto) provides the viewer with a somewhat unconventional twist as the story deepens and the younger version of each of the four women are introduced.
Michelle Krusiec (Better Luck Tomorrow, Saving Face) portrays Lauren from twenty-five years earlier while relative newcomer, Akemi Look, plays the part of the younger Kat. Without divulging any spoilers, the viewer is plunged into a dark sequence of incidents as the film progresses, adding complication and intrigue as the depth of the women’s bonds slowly unravels.
The beginning of the film has awkward moments where the plot seems a bit forced. As The Unbidden progresses, the rough spots even out into a more evenly paced storyline. While Lee admitted he included many predictable tropes from the horror genre, the film adds bizarre twists that leave the viewer unsure of how to react. Moments where some in the audience laughed, others were confused as to whether or not laughing was an appropriate reaction. Lee made clear that his philosophy about filmmaking is that it should not be too comfortable, that horror films in particular should make the viewer uneasy. His goal in making this film was to connect Asian American women of different generations.
Nickson, Tomita, Sung, and Look were all in attendance, along with Director Lee, for the screening in San Diego’s Mission Valley. Tomita expressed her confusion as to how to portray Lauren when she first read the script and began to research the role of women in occult type films. She expressed the desire to play the role of an antagonist in the future. Nickson joked she was going to send the film to the casting department of the hit show The Walking Dead. While all had never done horror films before, Sung gave most of the credit for the film’s success to the behind-the-scenes crew. She said, “We have the simple job,” while praising The Unbidden‘s writers, editors, directors, and composers.
The Unbidden can be viewed on Amazon Video and will be available on Redbox this month.
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