NFL player Simeon Rice makes his feature directorial debut with Unsullied, which seems to be a big drawing point for most of the marketing material for the film. It’s not often that someone goes from football player to filmmaker, so the first question one might wonder is: How does Rice do? Surprisingly well. Unsullied is directed fluently, with many scenes bathed in shadow or shot in frantic motion. Rice has a firm enough grasp on framing and evoking mode with his low budget thriller to suggest he might have a promising career making movies if he keeps at it.
One thing is clear: he certainly likes watching movies. Unsullied is a sleazy B-movie that firmly remains true to its B-movie roots, while also referencing several other films at once. There’s a little bit of the TV adaptation of Dean Koontz’s Intensity in here, mixed with the backwoods hell of Deliverance, crossed with the slick Michael Bay-produced remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the lurid, exploitative-ness of I Spit on Your Grave tossed in for good measure. Murry Gray plays Reagan, a track star who has the misfortune of having her car break down in the boondocks of Florida. Two seemingly helpful men (Rusty Joiner and James Gaudioso) happen to come by and offer to give her a lift, but before you can say “Bad idea,” they’ve drugged her and taken her back to their creepy cabin. Reagan isn’t going to be an easy victim for these two psychopaths though, as soon she’s escaped and is running for her life with the two creeps chasing after her. As she flees, she flashes back to moments in her past with her sister that seem inconsequential at first, but slowly begin to reveal a bigger picture.
Unsullied is similar to the recent, inexcusable Return to Sender, with its themes of sexual assault and revenge. But unlike Return to Sender, which just seemed far too sanitized to be trying to tell the queasy story it wanted to tell, Unsullied never tries to disguise the type of film it is, although it is a bit disappointing to have to see yet another “woman in peril from rapists” film again in so many weeks. What hurts Unsullied most though is that the film is just far too derivative for its own good. While Unsullied moves at a clipped pace, and doesn’t waste too much time on un-engaging scenes, too much of the film feels like a greatest hits compilation, with Rice and co-writer John Nodilo cherry picking scenes from other, similar films.
Gray, making her film debut here, does a fine job with the part she has to play. She moves quick and gracefully, and hits her emotional beats adeptly. She makes for a convincing, sympathetic heroine, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to feel a bit of satisfaction as she gets the upper hand and beats the hell out of the men who’ve been tormenting her. As the two sexual predators, Rusty Joiner and James Gaudioso are required to do little more than look and act like one-note psychopaths. The characters are believably creepy, but there’s nothing more to them beyond that. A little nuance would’ve gone a long way, but perhaps that would just stray too far from the B-movie aesthetic that Rice and company are going for here.
Unsullied doesn’t stumble nearly as much as other films from first time directors with first time stars might, and is quick and simple enough that you’ll probably be able to get a few cheap thrills out of it if you’re looking for deliberately B-movie entertainment. But Rice shows enough potential as a director here that hopefully should he get behind the camera for a feature again, he’ll be committed enough to tell a story that hasn’t been told in a dozen other movies already.