Stars: Hannah John-Kamen, Douglas Booth, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, Kristian Nairn, Chris Walley, Colm Meaney, Niamh Cusack, Finbar Lynch
Writer: Mark Stay, story by Mark Stay & Jon Wright
Director: Jon Wright
Distributor: Well Go USA Entertainment
Release Date: March 10, 2023 (theatrical); March 14, 2023 (digital)
UNWELCOME is part of a pleasing new mini-trend in horror. Instead of keeping secrets for no good reason, someone who actually knows what’s going on explains it early on, and it falls to the main characters to heed the warning or not. This may cut down on mystery a bit, but it stops us from feeling like the plot relies on everybody behaving like an idiot.
In UNWELCOME, the main characters are Maya (Hannah John-Kamen) and Jamie (Douglas Booth), a young couple in London who are delighted by Maya’s positive pregnancy test. But when Jamie goes out to buy a bottle of something non-alcoholic to celebrate, he’s followed home by a trio of muggers who stage a home invasion.
Maya and Jamie are badly shaken by the attack, although Maya’s pregnancy is unaffected. Then Jamie’s Aunt Maeve dies in front of her large, isolated house outside a village in rural Ireland, and wills the property to him.
Jamie and Maya understandably think this will be a wonderful respite from urban violence and a lovely, safe place to bring up their child.
Two matters confront them right away. One is what seems to be a fairly mundane problem. Maeve wasn’t keen on maintaining the house, so there is a fair-sized hole in the roof, just for starters.
The other, stranger issue is a little cottage that looks like it’s out of a storybook that’s on the property, just across from the house. Maeve’s friend Niamh (Niamh Cusack) shares the late owner’s belief that the cottage, and the woods beyond, are inhabited by “the little people.”
The little people are not humans of small stature, nor are they typical leprechauns or fairies. They are, rather, the fear dearg, or Redcaps, goblins who demand a daily tribute of a plate of meat – or else.
Since Niamh fears that Maya and Jamie don’t take her seriously, she offers to come every day. The couple don’t want that sort of infringement on their privacy, so Maya promises to do it. But will she?
Meanwhile, a whole other sort of menace comes when Maya and Jamie, unable to find any building contractors available in the near future, hire the Whelans. This is a family construction firm, headed up by Colm “Daddy” Whelan (Colm Meaney), who supervises his crew of adult children, super-snarky daughter Aisling (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), bristling for a fight Killian (Chris Walley), and towering, mentally confused Eoin (Kristian Nairn, Hodor in GAME OF THRONES).
Clumsy, incompetent and confrontational, the Whelans pose an increasingly serious threat. And then there’s what Maya finds in the woods …
A lot of recent Irish horror gets a little overly jokey. Director Jon Wright, who crafted the story with screenwriter Mark Stay, has a certain tongue-in-cheek sensibility here. Given that the creatures, when we see them, resemble beings from THE DARK CRYSTAL (although the film credits suggest they are played by human performers, reduced in size via VFX), that’s just as well. But we don’t get poked hard in the ribs, so that UNWELCOME maintains a balanced tone amidst its growing insanity
We also get unpredictable arcs in the leads. John-Kamen gives Maya a quality of kindness and wonder that doesn’t prevent her from getting very tough. Booth is able to let John be alternately charming, noxious, and a total wuss without us actively rooting for his demise (for the most part). O’Donnell is very funny and scary, Meaney keeps us guessing as to where Whelan is on the scale between muddled and malicious, and Nairn uses his physique effectively.
Production designer John Beard comes up with some wonderful fantasy imagery, as well as a persuasively lived-in look for the more convention aspects of the film.
It should be noted that, for all its fairytale qualities, UNWELCOME gets very bloody. For those who’ve ever wondered what would happen if Brian Froud goblins invaded STRAW DOGS, UNWELCOME provides a welcome answer.
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Article: Movie Review: UNWELCOME