FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE YET TO SEE UNWELCOME, THIS IS A NON-SPOILER REVIEW.
After watching Cocaine Bear, I was in the mood for another silly creature feature… and I had a screener for Unwelcome so, I figured that would do the trick. And I was very taken aback that a film about little demented leprechaun-like creatures who live in a mythical forest… ended up being so damn serious. At least at first.
WHAT IS UNWELCOME ALL ABOUT?
The movie follows a young couple Maya and Jamie, who find out that they are finally going to have a baby. But, during a brutal break-in at their London flat, their lives are forever altered. And so, they end up moving to a rural Ireland countryside for some peace and quiet. Their transition begins smoothly enough… besides their family friend telling them they must leave out raw liver every night to appease the murderous redcaps who live in the surrounding forest. They don’t believe a word the woman says, but they decide to leave out the liver anyway. But, when the couple brings a shady family into their home to help fix their roof… their lives begin to fall apart again. And the hungry creatures will not stay hidden for long.
WHY SO SERIOUS!?
So, as I said before… the film takes itself quite seriously, starting from the very beginning. The first ten minutes are so, set the stage with tension and a disturbing attack that had me a bit confused about what type of horror movie I was actually watching. But, luckily, the production value is first-rate. And the acting from Hannah John-Kamen, Douglas Booth, character actor Colm Meaney and even Game of Throne’s Hodor *ahem* Khristian Nairn, is far better than you would expect from this kind of genre fare… so, I even though I was confused, I was hesitantly on board.
DOES UNWELCOME BUILD IN ITS ANXIETY & TENSION?
Unwelcome really takes its time, building up its characters, setting, and overall atmosphere. You get to know some of the townsfolk at the pub, see the inner workings of this couple and their journey of healing from their trauma, and then are introduced to this troublesome family whose patriarch demands to be called “Daddy” by the couple. The sheer anxiety of this father and his three awful kids starting to take over Maya and Jamie’s home really gets under your skin and keeps the tension palpable throughout. You really begin to fear for the two leads and also feel their pain, as they seem to never be able to catch a break.
WHERE ARE THE GOBLINS!?
My main issue here is that the filmmakers take way too much time setting up this side of the story. The promise of these devilish little creatures causing mayhem… all seems forgotten for quite a long period of screen time. It’s not until the hour mark, that the creatures finally start to make an appearance… and I feel that was a huge missed opportunity. Because once these redcaps start their murdering spree, everything I was hoping Unwelcome would be, comes to fruition.
The film takes a complete 180 and transitions into a gratuitously gory, utterly ludicrous, and joyously campy B-movie. It’s all held together with some delightful practical effects and puppet work that harkens back to the creature features from the eighties. Though I do think the design for these nasty little goblins could have been a little more inspired, they are still serviceable enough that it doesn’t feel cheap.
DOES UNWELCOME FEEL LIKE TWO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT MOVIES?
I just wish that Unwelcome had a little better handle on its tonal shifts. I appreciate that the filmmakers wanted this to be elevated genre fare and it does feel that way… but, the first two acts feel more like a grim, raw Straw Dogs-type thriller. And then the last act feels like a ridiculous, over-the-top, balls-to-the wall, R-Rated homage to Gremlins. And I have to admit, I enjoyed both sides. But, it does come off like two completely different films that are not cohesive in any way. I think if director Jon Wright and co-screenwriter Mark Stay had introduced their creatures a little bit earlier, this problem might not have been so apparent.
IS IT STILL WORTH CHECKING OUT?
Even so, I ended up having a lot of fun with Unwelcome. It’s not reinventing the wheel in any way… But, it brings a nice twist to the genre with its Irish folklore and unexpectedly solid production values. I really recommend that even if you’re not digging it at first, give it some patience. Because I think if you’re able to look past its glaring tonal issues, gore-hounds and fans of campy B-movie horror alike, will end up being wholly satisfied by Unwelcome’s final act.
Unwelcome will be In Select Theaters on March 10th, 2023 & Streaming on PVOD on March 14th, 2023.
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