Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artwork: Jack T. Cole, Jim Campbell (lettering)
Release Date: 9th May 2018
The Unsound is a surreal psychological horror tale from Cullen Bunn and Jack T. Cole, and the collected edition of the entire six-part series is available from BOOM! Studios now. It tells the story of Ashli, a young nurse whose first day on the job at the Saint Cascia Psychiatric Hospital turns into a terrifying, psychedelic sprint for survival through the hidden bowels of the facility, making her question her past, her future and her own sanity along the way.
Bunn’s horror chops are well established, but he pushes the boundaries of surrealism in a major way here, blurring the line between hallucination and reality time and time again, leaving us questioning pretty much everything we see throughout the course of the book.
He is ably assisted in this endeavour by newcomer artist Cole, whose unconventional style really helps to capture the sheer madness of Saint Cascia and the bizarre cast of characters that Ashil encounters during her desperate attempt to escape. Her hallucinations (or at least, we hope they’re hallucinations) are brought to life in a striking, skin-crawling fashion, and Cole’s colours really help to accentuate the descent into madness, starting off fairly mundane before gradually becoming more and more garish and psychedelic throughout the course of the story.
The opening of the book is truly fantastic, with Ashili’s journey to the hospital being punctuated by innocuously unsettling background details, and things rapidly spiralling downwards from the moment she sets foot in the building. Bunn uses a measured approach here, letting Cole’s grotesque character designs and the occasional menacing detail – the razor blade motif, for instance, which is repeated to scintillating effect throughout the course of the book – to really set the reader on edge.
Unfortunately, after such a stunning, attention-grabbing opening, things noticeably sag in the middle as Bunn and Cole assault us with a series of increasingly surreal and bewildering set-pieces which, for the most part, don’t really advance the story in any meaningful way. It feels at times a little like things are just being weird for the sake of being weird, and while some of the moments do have a significant payoff down the line, it feels like there’s a lot of filler along the way that could easily be removed without impacting the story in the slightest
The conclusion, if not exactly satisfying, is powerful enough to make the journey seem worthwhile, and pleasingly open-needed enough to make a return to the world Ashili finds herself inhabiting a distinct possibility. Things are far from resolved, and Bunn and Cole both heavily lean into the “show don’t tell” approach throughout the course of this series, and while that’s perhaps an approach that won’t appeal to every reader, it definitely works for me.
At the end of the day, while it does feel at times like a four-part series dragged out to six, the sheer visceral impact of Jack T. Cole’s artwork makes it easy for me to recommend The Unsound. If you’re looking for conventional structure or a clean, neat conclusion then you might want to consider looking elsewhere, but if you feel like having your mind messed with for 132 pages or so, this is well worth a look.
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