Sarah Campbell (Aurelia Rose) is looking for a fresh start. After a miserable, seven-year marriage to a verbally abusive husband who cheated on her, she is a new divorcee living in a new town, trying to pick up the pieces of her life. Thankfully, Sarah has a lot going for her: she’s young, attractive, and an immensely talented painter. Sarah is looking forward to painting again. It’s an activity she loves and one in which she is good, but one she had stopped participating in during her disastrous marriage. But now that she’s moved beyond her ugly past, she is painting with a renewed vigor. Unfortunately, her latest series of canvases are based upon nightmares she’s been having lately. While beautiful, the paintings don’t make much sense to her.
The new apartment complex in which she lives is populated by many quirky characters. There’s Tommy (Patrick Flanagan), the libidinous but ultimately harmless nephew of the apartment’s owner. He lives for free in an apartment in trade for doing odd jobs around the complex. Then there’s old Miss Stubbs, an ornery old lady who takes an instant disliking to Sarah. And finally, there’s mysterious Bruce Middlebrooks (Daniel Baldwin), who tends to keep to himself and is out and about at very odd hours of the night. All of these tenants share one thing in common: none of them find the child’s toy clown that Sarah discovers very tasteful. Each tenant that sees the doll becomes unaccountably irritable with Sarah. Pretty soon only Tommy is still talking to her, but even he is becoming irritated with Sarah.
It seems that the doll might belong to a young boy who went missing several years back. Sarah keeps seeing the boy’s ghost, and each visit creates an explosion of glass aimed at Sarah. First it’s her bathroom mirror, then Tommy’s aquarium, and finally the glass door of a shower stall. The violence not only seems to be directed at Sarah but it also seems to be increasing, so much so that she begins to fear for her life. In desperation, she visits a psychic (Warwick Davis) and together the unlikely duo slowly begin to unravel the mystery. The psychic suggests that the ghost is trying to pass a message along and tells Sarah not to be afraid, but to attempt contact with the spirit the next time it appears. At Sarah’s art showing, she sees the ghost again, but this time asks the poor child how she can help. The little boy simply wants his killer to be caught, and begins to hint at clues to his death that Sarah must unravel.
The Unbroken is a well-made low-budget horror film with great production value. The cinematography is fantastic with high, sweeping shots of scenery. Likewise, the musical score is subtle and perfectly-suited to the various moods of the film. While the acting isn’t great, it is above average and doesn’t impede the enjoyment of the film.
The problem with the film is the writing. Anthony Steven Giordano has created a script with two major problems: first, the plot is entirely unoriginal. We’ve seen this story a thousand times, many times done more effectively. Elements from various, more recognizable films are easily recognizable. For example, until the crucial art gallery visit from the ghost it seems that Sarah is in danger. But once she communicates with the ghost, suddenly not only does the supernatural danger disappear, but the ghost even begins to protect her by lashing out at others who mistreat Sarah. The same general theme was used in M. Night Shymalan’s The Sixth Sense when the ghosts Cole experienced seemed to try to hurt him, only to find out later they were simply trying to pass along messages. Another example is that the ghost in The Unbroken seems to break into a mist and supernatural occurrences are associated with a breath of mist similar to the ghost of the boy in The Devil’s Backbone who appears as a liquid because his body is hidden in a well. The story is also a bit too predictable–I guessed who the killer was and the mystery of Sarah’s paintings way too early in the film.
The second major problem with The Unbroken is that writer Giordano and director Jason Murphy couldn’t decide whether the film should be a comedy or a serious horror film. While the film isn’t out-and-out scary, there are several eerily effective scenes that are creepy enough to raise the gooseflesh on the back of your neck. However, the filmmakers seem more than a little self-conscious about making yet another ghost story about a murdered child and feel the need to point out how silly the entire story sounds. They do this by giving both Tommy and Sarah endless quips about how the goings-on sound like they are straight out of a horror movie or how silly the story of a ghostly boy sounds. At one point, Tommy even summarizes with a line about how Sarah saw a ghost and then a piece of glass broke. At that very moment, Tommy’s aquarium explodes. The need for Giordano and Murphy to infuse the film with so many overly self-conscious jibes makes the film a bit uneven. It’s not funny enough to be the next Scary Movie, but certainly not serious enough to be a full-on horror film. Nevertheless, the characters of Sarah and Tommy are very likeable and Baldwin is just sleazy enough to be a nasty villain, so the film still manages to entertain.
While the circular ending (new tenant finds same spooky doll) is a bit stale and hokey (if all the ghost wanted was revenge and the discovery of his body, why hasn’t he moved on?), the film still manages to be fun and is a reasonable way to pass 90 minutes on a rainy Saturday afternoon.