Plot: In 2009, police discovered a host of dead bodies in the home of Anthony Sowell, who would later be convicted on 84 counts of murder, rape, and assorted other criminal charges. A horrible smell had been infamous in the area for a long while, Sowell was involved in some strange, violent incidents, and several missing persons reports were filed, but little was ever done about the events. In Unseen, the case is examined in depth to see why it took so long and so many incidents before the situation was looked into, as well as the cold truth about how many lives were shattered and lost in the wake of Sowell’s violent spree.
Entertainment Value: The case of Anthony Sowell was a high profile one once the story broke, as he would be deemed a serial killer and of course, the news cycles love a lurid, tragic case like this one. But this is not an examination of a killer and his crimes, unlike most true crime documentaries, instead Unseen is about the victims, including those who survived or were close to those who were killed. The movie uses news documents to help maintain a timeline of events, while various people from the actual neighborhood lend their memories and observations. This includes some women who managed to make it out of Sowell’s house, relatives of victims, and others from the area, such as a liquor store owner and a local pastor. The first hand accounts from the women who came so close to a violent end are haunting, as they are tormented by nightmares and can’t find much respite from the terrible memories. Some of the interviews serve to help us get an idea of what life was like the neighborhood, such as the rampant drug use and how the police interacted with the locals.
Unseen also spends time to let us get to know the victims, who they were and what their lives were like. A list of names can have an impact, but seeing personal photographs and hearing some those who loved them is so much more impactful. In cases like these, the news tends to focus on the killer and the more graphic details, but Unseen tells the more important stories, those of the victims and how these tragic events happened. On more than one occasion, it becomes clear that Sowell’s actions were known and reported, but nothing was done. When the documentary reminds of us of lives lost after the reports, it is beyond heartbreaking. The interviews with the liquor store owner provide one of the most shocking moments I’ve seen in a documentary of this kind, when he claims Sowell was just getting rid of the garbage when he killed these women. This is harsh to hear someone say of course, but it helps paint a clearer picture about why the disappearances weren’t a priority in this area. I found Unseen to be a tragic, but insightful look inside a notorious case that captured national attention. This is a sad, powerful piece that needs to be seen.