It’s hard to believe that former NFL player and Super Bowl champion Simeon Rice went down a completely different path. From football player to director and screenwriter, Rice has transitioned fairly well. Unsullied, his feature film debut, shows off some of Rice’s skills as a director, and they’re not bad at all. And while the film is occasionally rough and lacks an overall sense of refinement, it is a confident and adrenaline-fueled venture.
Reagan (Murray Gray) is a dedicated athlete, a track runner headed down to a competition when her car stalls and stops. In the middle of the Florida boondocks, Reagan is alone and waiting for help when two men happen across her path. Desperate for help and finding some kind of solace in the men’s kindness, Reagan agrees to have them drop her off at the nearest gas station. Of course, she forgets her phone in her car and the two men, Noah (Rusty Joiner) and Mason (James Gaudioso), kidnap her and take her back to their headquarters, which happens to be in a forest in the middle of a forsaken town. Reagan, scared for her life and in an unfamiliar place, manages to escape. But what she doesn’t know is that Noah and Mason, as hunters, love the chase… and the taste of human flesh.
For Simeon Rice’s debut feature, Unsullied is far from bad. Rice shows remarkable and solid filmmaking skills, be it with his first-person point of view running scenes that are shot as though the player of a video game is running the show, or the underlying suspense that he infuses the film with. Rice has a lot of potential. What the film lacks in overall finesse and certain underdeveloped characters, it makes up for in ambition. Murray Gray, who is making her feature film debut here, plays Reagan with a lot of gusto and powers her performance with emotionally-fueled beats that keep the film anchored throughout. The inclusion of Reagan’s sister Kim (Nicole Paris Williams) through flashbacks, however, doesn’t always work because it takes us away from what is currently happening and sometimes throws the film off-balance.
Rusty Joiner and James Gaudioso as human hunters are subtly menacing, but lack the overall bite. This is mostly due to the fact that their backstory is relatively vague save for the couple of scenes of them paying off the local townspeople to keep their silence. A lot of what they have to offer comes from their predatory facial expressions, body movement, and the fact that they seem to be completely heartless. This makes it easier to root for Reagan, and you really, really do want her to get out alive.
So all in all, Simeon Rice makes for a decent filmmaker. His choices are confident, even if the film doesn’t always flow smoothly and the pacing struggles a bit near the end. The film rests on Murray Gray’s shoulders and she isn’t weighed down by it and her performance, as well as her character, are what really transform the film from a one-dimensional chase film to a more layered one. And although Unsullied is driven by Reagan’s emotional story throughout, the flashbacks hinder the film even while adding that layer mentioned earlier, so it’s a bizarre fact that it becomes both. And while the film does have a lot to offer, it isn’t able to carry that momentum all the way through to the end. Regardless of some of the film’s issues, however, Simeon Rice has a lot of potential in his future as a filmmaker.