‘The Unfamiliar’ Review: A Unique Perspective on How PTSD Impacts Families

On the surface, The Unfamiliar is a movie that tells the story of a family torn apart by war. But deep down, the horror film examines how our inner demons can ultimately attract more profound despair. 

Jemima West
Jemima West | Dark Matter Studios

‘The Unfamiliar’ is about a family possessed by ancient demons

The Unfamiliar comes from Dark Matter Studios. The film was directed and co-written by Henk Pretorius. It stars Jemima West, Christopher Dane, Rebecca Hanssen, Rachel Lin, and Harry McMillan-Hun. 

British Army Doctor Elizabeth “Izzy” Cormack (West) returns from war to find her family estranged and broken. Soon, Izzy starts to notice unexplainable events — something her husband (Dane) attributes to her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

As Izzy slowly pieces together a puzzle rooted in Hawaiian mythology, she uncovers a terrifying infestation affecting her entire family. To stop these demons from taking complete control, Izzy must dive into a dark underworld and reconcile with her inner-most demons.  

‘The Unfamiliar’ demonstrates how PTSD can affect an entire family unit

Having gone to war a doctor and returning a soldier as her husband feared, Izzy is visibly different. But so is her family. 

Part of that is due to the evil that seeks to tear the family apart. But another aspect that plays into the family’s separation is Izzy’s PTSD. While her husband and children are not having the same experience as she is, the person Izzy came back from war as ultimately impacted the dynamic of her entire family. 

Set amid the bright and colorful backdrop of Hawaii, The Unfamiliar demonstrates how PTSD can impact a family, regardless of time and place. 

Filmmakers honor Hawaiian folklore in ‘The Unfamiliar’ 

Together with co-writer Jennifer Nicole Stang, Henk worked to create a world that stayed true to ancient Hawaiian folklore.

From the Mujina — a faceless woman that appears ill or drunk — to the Night Marchers — warrior ghosts — The Unfamiliar uses ancient stories to frighten, but in a way that honors their heritage. 

While you never get a glimpse of any of the demons in full, that’s part of the appeal for horror fans. Your mind is left to imagine what these ancient Hawaiian demons might look like in the full light.

What’s more, spirits like the Mujina haunt without a clear motive, adding to the films’ allure and unexplainable suffering. 

If you’re a fan of classic horror tropes, give ‘The Unfamiliar’ a watch 

Set in a place often portrayed as an ideal vacation destination, The Unfamiliar asks you to look past the friendly locals. Instead, viewers are forced to fixate on the mythological creatures, beliefs, and mysteries woven into Native Hawaiians’ psyche.

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The way filmmakers weaved Hawaiian mythology into the storytelling makes for a more compelling tale. “Decoding the Hawaiian mythology and the meaning of each cultural reference in The Unfamiliar may feel like assembling a complex puzzle with the lead character,” Pretorius teased. “[It’s] a puzzle that consists of tiny pieces left for the audience to find and to ultimately make sense of.” 

Fan of films like InsidiousThe Amityville Horror, or The Shining might like The Unfamiliar. The latest horror film from Dark Matter Studios is available for digital download in the United States beginning August 21 and September 11 in the United Kingdom.