The Unearthing (2015) – By Levi Anderson

The Unearthing is the first feature film from writer/director Tristan James Jensen. It plays like a PG version of Stephen King’s “IT” – a small group of random teens become friends, discover love for one another, and fight a supernatural evil. Unlike “IT”, however, “The Unearthing” is not a horror film, but a coming-of-age tale wrapped in a ghost story.

The movie starts off by introducing Autumn, who is traveling with her dad to Stillwater, Minnesota for the Summer. After her first night, she awakes to find Charlotte, a local girl, sitting at her beside, drawing in sketchbook. While initially shocking, it seems that Charlotte is good-intentioned and just looking to help Autumn make some friends in a new town.  She invites Autumn on a hike, where they happen upon an awkward and shy boy, Parker. Autumn reluctantly becomes friends with these two, mostly thanks to Charlotte’s pushy optimism, and they invite her to explore the town, including the Warden’s House Museum, where Autumn gets her first taste of the supernatural.

While in the museum, both Autumn and Parker see a ghostly spirit, but not a threatening presence, rather a motherly spirit who reaches out to Autumn but vanishes when Parker happens upon them. This unsettling event sets them on a quest to research stories of hauntings and unexplained events in the town’s history.  Days go by in which they scour through many books and historical records, while still taking time to be kids and get to know one another over pizza, hot dogs, and cotton candy.

As the three homegrown detectives pass the time digging for clues, Autumn, who is quite closed-off, begins to open up more to Charlotte and Parker. Parker, a quiet and sullen kid slowly begins to come out of his shell, as well.  Eventually he shares with Autumn about troubles in his home life, and that Charlotte and Autumn happened to stumble across him just when he was losing all hope and in need of some support.  This sparks a little bit of something on the fringes of romance between he and Autumn, which Charlotte helps to fuel. 

As the team gets closer to finding what they think is the truth of the spirit they witnessed at the Warden’s House, a darker presence that has already been threatening Parker gets stronger.  Coming to realize that they are dealing with paranormal entities of both good and evil, the three of them buckle down to find a way to vanquish the evil force while helping the motherly spirit find some peace. 

All is not what it seems in this film, with a few questions left up to the viewers to draw their own conclusions about who everyone really is and what the true nature of their actions are.  

Riley Yeary as Autumn, Angelina Masciopinto as Charlotte, and Kaleb Miller as Parker all turn in acceptable performances, with the main critique for all of them being that they are so young it can be hard to tap into some of the deeper, darker emotions that they likely haven’t experienced in real life yet.  Masciopinto possibly has the easiest time here, as her character is the most childlike: upbeat and curious, though a touch bossy, and she plays it quite well.  The three of them all outshine much of the older actors in the cast, with the exception of Scott Novotny who plays Autumn’s dad Jim as a quite likable guy who tries a bit too hard to be the “cool dad”.

The story was fun and engaging, though the dialogue does get a bit amateurish in spots, using the conversations to spoon feed the plot rather than delivering via subtext and action. The cinematography and editing by first time director Jensen, who by the way is only 17, was quite lovely and very professional. This is a young director that has studied the craft well, and already mastered the art of storytelling via cinema. The sound and music were right on the money, enhancing and not detracting as the story weaves from fun adventure to sinister drama and on to a thrilling climax. A very well-made film that shows heart and begs for Tristan James Jensen to continue entertaining audiences.

Keep up with this films progress and screening information at: http://www.facebook.com/theunearthingmovie