The Unraveling opens on a heroin addict going through the process of injecting his drug of choice. That heroin addict is Michael (Zack Gold), and he’s servicing his addiction in a flophouse full of similarly addicted folk, almost all of whom are presently off inside themselves, far from reality. In the act of procuring a blanket for a poor wretch having a bad experience, Michael uncovers a dealer’s stash of drugs, cash and a firearm, with which he takes off, sharpish. Michael’s got to get home.
At home is Michael’s pregnant fiancée Jess (Cooper Harris). She knows Michael is a former addict but Michael hasn’t told her that he’s backsliding into his old habit once more, although she certainly suspects as much. When he slips out to get high, he tells her he’s picking up night shifts at work. Of course, there’s never any extra money from these extra “shifts” but, lookey here! Michael’s got $6,000 tucked inside an envelope. Why, he must have been back-paid for his hard graft, right? Yeah, right. The sudden appearance of an overly fat wad of cash does nothing to assuage Jess’s concerns but, well, there’s a baby on the way and money’s tight, and she wants to believe Michael. She tells him she just doesn’t like him being out there and he promises her that once the baby comes, he’ll quit. They’re talking about the extra shifts at work, but of course they’re not talking about the extra shifts at work at all.
The following day whilst out by the skips at work, Michael is grabbed, bound, gagged and thrown into the boot of a Chevy SS by a quartet of hockey mask-wearing goons. I guess this is what you get for taking off with a significant quantity of somebody else’s illegal product, right? Wrong; many miles out into the wilderness, the four “goons” let Michael out of the trunk and reveal themselves to be his buddies Alan (Jason Tobias), Louie (Bennett Viso), John (Jake Crumbine) and Shane (Bob Turton). Turns out Michael, in a drug-bound stupor, neglected to show up for his own stag party, arranged by these gentlemen in Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. Well, you know the saying: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. What also stays in Vegas is the cash they spent on their Sin City sojourn, so now they’re “treating” Michael to a more immediate – and far cheaper – stag option: an enforced camping trip out in the woods with his buds. Of course, they don’t know about Michael’s continuing habit (except that, like Jess, they kind-of do, really) and Michael’s quietly pissed because, having been snatched in the manner that he has, he only has a small quantity of gear on him. How’s he going to power through this “fun” experience?
The fun peters out quickly enough anyway as John, suspicious of Michael’s constant need to nip off for a wee, goes through his bag and confiscates the last of Michael’s stash which brings tensions over Michael’s habit to the fore. Still, that’s a picnic compared to the downturn the guys experience next when John vanishes only to be found suffocated in the car, which has been tampered with and rendered useless, stranding the remaining foursome out in the middle of nowhere. What is happening? Who has killed John, and why? Is Michael’s hasty snatch-and-run catching up with him for real this time? The last forty minutes of The Unraveling are a big old game of cat-and-mouse interspersed with flashbacks of Michael’s descent back into the drug scene; but this game mightn’t play out as one would expect…
Man. With a title like that, I was smugly half-hoping for The Unraveling to start well before dissolving into tired cliché just so’s I could say that it “unravels” as it goes, ha-bloody-ha. But it does nothing of the sort. First-time director Thomas Jakobsen keeps The Unraveling as tight as a drum throughout the entirety of its brisk eighty-minute runtime, and whilst each of the five principal characters are initially painted quite broadly (one’s funny, one’s an asshole etc etc), they’re all distinct, relatable and, crucially, likeable. Lead Zack Gold plays Michael with a touch of Aaron Paul about him; a sweet guy who simply wasn’t paying attention when the tide of addiction swept him out to sea.
All in all then, The Unraveling is a well-written, beautifully staged independent thriller featuring a terrific cast and a satisfying conclusion to the proceedings. Recommended.