Director: Evan Spiliotopoulos
Cast: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, William Sadler, Katie Aselton, Cary Elwes
Review Author: Tony
Synopsis: When Alice, a young deaf and mute girl, gains the ability to both hear and speak after an alleged encounter with the Virgin Mary, disgraced journalist Gerry Finn believes he’s found the story of the century. As news spreads of Alice’s story and her gifts of healing the sick, her congregation in the small New England town of Banfield spreads worldwide as the event is viewed as a modern day miracle. At first delighted with his return to the spotlight, Gerry begins to see far more sinister signs and revelations behind Alice’s saviour.
Sometimes it takes a truly terrible movie to break free from a severe case of writer’s block and reignite the passion of bemoaning the art of film. So enraging was my viewing of The Unholy it literally ended a near 2 month sabbatical from the blog. Previously I’ve taken breaks and intermissions from writing but this latest hiatus has been the longest and I feel the need to somewhat expalin myself without going into too much detail. To put it frankly, I haven’t had the time; I work a full-time job that has seen my workload increase to almost impossible levels which has had the knock on effect of weighing on me mentally and tiring me out. Thankfully, I’ve found a more sustainable work/life balance and will now be focusing on my mains interests, primarily this blog and its improvement.
With that explanation out of the way we can return to describing all the failings of what I would consider the worst film I’ve watched this year. The Unholy boasts an interesting concept based on the novel The Shrine by famous horror author James Herbert, but any intrigue is flushed out by all too familiar horror tropes and terrible execution. Religion and horror typically go hand in hand with both the fantastical tales from The Bible of hell and demons as well as the atrocities committed by humanity in the name of religion, twisting it to their own twisted logic. Rather than the film exploring the idea of misplaced faith, the darkness behind miracles, or the dangers of religious fervour The Unholy is just another run-of-the-mill schlocky PG-13 horror film with no ambition other than to make its audience jump. I can forgive schlock but I cannot forgive wasted potential.
Utterly devoid of any suspense or tension, The Unholy actively works against itself revealing too much of its CGI villain too early and conceding all mystery through clumsy exposition dumps and literal picture book diaries. The sheer amount of jumpscares crammed into its 100 min runtime is impressive considering how cheap each one feels. I’m not opposed to jumpscares in film as when executed well it leaves a sense of satisfaction and remembrance but here they are just layered on top of each other leaving no time to breathe and very little context to actually set them up. A shining example is when our protagonist is re-watching footage of his interview and notices an anomaly. Suddenly the apparition apparitions face appears with the typical explosion in volume; an almost effective scare, despite the logic of demons invading our computing devices, only to immediately have the face appear even bigger with an even bigger raise in volume.
If the film has one saving grace other than some flashes of decent cinematography it’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan as our leading man. Morgan is an incredibly endearing actor who just oozes charisma no matter what role he’s cast in and his turn as Gerry Finn, a disgraced journalist looking to get back into the limelight with less than pure intentions, is by far the most competent aspect of the film. The rest of the cast is serviceable at best but leave little impression throughout. It’s nice to see William Sadler still behind the camera, one of my favourite character actors, as well as Cary Elwes even if he’s sporting a pretty suspect Bostonian accent.
My resentment for this film was probably further heightened as a result of watching the vastly superior Saint Maud (another horror film exploring religion) in the same week. Whereas Saint Maud is light on scares but chock-full of atmosphere and a foreboding sense of terror, The Unholy is just a slog of seen-it-before scares and uninteresting story points. While the film left a bad taste in my mouth for squandering an intriguing concept, the only positive I can take away is I’ll know seek out the original book it’s based on.
Cans of Bud Light