Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 40 minutes, Director – Evan Spiliotopoulos
A struggling journalist (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) begins to feel spirits are stalking him in the wake of the Virgin Mary helping a once mute and deaf girl (Cricket Brown) perform healing miracles.
We’re all aware of the term ‘be careful what you wish for’, writer Evan Spiliotopoulos twists this adage for his directorial debut, The Unholy, to ‘be careful what you pray for’ – close to one of the taglines for the film. We follow struggling journalist Gerry Fenn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) as he’s called to investigate strange goings on in a small town in Massachusetts, involving markings on a cow. When it turns out that the occurrence is nothing more than a prank Gerry does what he’s become famous within his industry for and twists stories and scenery to fake a better article. However, with the alteration he commits here Gerry unknowingly releases a restrained demon on the town of Banfield.
Initially things seem miraculous. A local mute and deaf girl, Alice (Cricket Brown), finds herself suddenly able to speak and hear. With what she claims is the help of the Virgin Mary, she begins to heal sick people in the are – helping a paralysed boy walk. It’s not long until discussion about a tree just outside the church being made a shrine crops up; with Boston based Bishop Gyles (Carey Elwes) and Monseigneur Delgarde (Diogo Morgado) visiting to observe the occurrences and decide for themselves if indeed what is happening, and attracting mass internet conversation, is miraculous. It’s such elements that the majority of the film revolves around, playing more as a drama than anything else – particularly for the majority of the first two acts.
For much of this time the most horror comes from brief glimpses of a grey-hooded figure stalking Gerry, mostly around his motel, only appearing more for brief unsuccessful jump scares. By the time the final 20 minutes comes along the film feels the need to catch up with not just horror but the plot that it’s been somewhat light on until now. Cramming in a rushed investigation into tackling the realised problem of the demon that’s waiting to be released wider into the world, with the help of unwitting Alice. The simplicity of the narrative that has come beforehand almost feels thrown out the window in exchange for constant rushing about. Giving physician Natalie something more to do than simply stand around and briefly talk to Morgan’s character about Alice, possibly providing him with more insight for the story he so craves to help him get back into the big time of journalism, already being attracted by a number of major publications.
As the horror pushes almost all at once the final handful of scenes remain with the supernatural element but never feel as if there’s any threat present. The lack of scares, chills or tension cause a sense of distance with the piece and almost feel out of character when compared to the simple drama of beforehand, albeit with some slightly demonic elements or glimpses; which also lack any proper impact. The Unholy’s final stages simply feel overblown, and as if the horror has arrived too late in the game to properly feel a part of the film, alongside not overly working in the first place. While what might have come beforehand was somewhat decent, even if the horror patches didn’t quite click, the rush to form a proper plot in the final half hour lets things down and makes for something that feels more messy than scary.
The Unholy works best when it works as a, even if simplistic, drama with some supernatural elements. By the time the horror is properly introduced things feel too rushed and messy to have any proper impact.