Film Review | Unwelcome
I didn't plan on this review, so please accept the cobbled togetherness of this review, but I wanted to get it out as Unwelcome hits the screens today.
Now it's no secret that I am a big fan of Mark Stay's Witches of Woodville series, but that was not my introduction to his work, this was the film Robot Overlords, which was also written with director Jon Wright, and starring Ben Kingsley and Gillian Anderson. So, when I heard that there was a new film on the way written by the same team, and starring another of my favourite actors, Hannah John Kamen (Killjoys - one of my fave Sci Fi shows, and the legendary Colm Meaney) I was positively salivating to see this
So I actually saw this last night, and I must thank Mark Stay and Warner Bros for the advanced screening copy.
Break a Promise. Pay the Price
A couple escape their urban nightmare to the tranquility of rural Ireland, only to hear stories of mysterious creatures who live in the gnarled, ancient woods at the foot of their garden. As warned by their new neighbors, the creatures come when called to help souls in dire need of rescue, but it's crucial to remember that there's always a dear price to pay for their aid.
Release date: 27 January 2023 (UK)
Director: Jon Wright
Written by Mark Stay
Maya (Hannah John - Kamen) and Jamie (Douglas Booth) are trying for a baby. They have taken their relationship to the next step and are ready to start a family. In a moment of unbridled happiness, the couple learn that their dreams have come true and husband Jamie sets out to the local shop to get some bubbly in celebration. However on the way there, he encounters some local yobs. This subsequently leads to a brutal home invasion and the couple being savagely attacked in their own home.
Turn to nearly nine months later their fotunes turn when Jamie's aunt unexpectedly passes away in Ireland. This turn in fortunes mean that Maya and Jamie can rocate from their urban hell, to the bucolic peaceful village in Ireland where Jamie spent his formative years as a child.
They soon find out that Auntie had her funny little ways and Maya is made to promise by local publican Maeve (Niamh Cusack) to keep the tradition of offering a 'blood offering' in the form of a raw piece of liver to the Fae folk, who reside in the deep dark forest at the bottom of the garden. With the hint of dire consequences if she doesn't
As the film moves on Jamie and Maya need repair work on the house. Subsequently hiring the Whelan family, who whilst seemingly innocuous, they soon find that they have a bit of a reputation in the village. And then there's lead Whelan's (Colm Meaney) insistence on calling him 'Daddy' Whelan at every given opportunity.
This film could easily have fallen into inanity quite quickly, but the writers, Jon Wright and Mark Stay blindside you immediately with the hints that this film could well be a horror comedy with its Fleabag style opener. However, this rug is violently tugged from under you with the brutality and visceral tone of the first ten minutes. The film sets its stall out and plainly tells you, this ain't gunna be a nice ride kids. And it certainly isn't!
Throughout the film there is an undertone of menace and tension that is carefully built layer on layer with each scene until it finally explodes in the final act.
The cast play the story perfectly, each of them restrained in their strangeness. Colm Meaney as we know is a fantastic actor with a great versitility and can play menacing characters brilliantly, and all the cast play their parts perfectly, each one tightening the strings as we go through the film. Jamie Lee O' Donnel and Chris Walley resemble the evil twins of the part that they played in Derry Girls and The Young Offenders, but without the goofiness that make them endearing in the respective shows and instead makes them just plain awful.
However, it's the two leads that pull the film off. Hannah John Kamen as Maya is brilliant, as we see her try to adjust from urban to rural life and integrate with the strange community, whilst dealing with the trauma of the initial sequence. Whilst on the other hand we get the frustrating ineptness of Douglas Booth's Jamie, who on the one hand is angry and combative, but on the other scared and weak, and never really marries the two together.
One of the main pulls of the film is how it plays with expectations at every given moment. The film regularly does a cheeky wink at the audience knowing full well that the audience are gunna think that this is a bit silly, but again I love how it lulls you into that false sense of security which ends up highlighting the brutality of the situation. A particular scene that comes to mind occurs between Colm Meaney's Daddy Whelan and his son, played by Game of Thrones's Kristian Nairn, which intially comes across as slightly comedic, but then the extension of the scene quickly degenerates into horrifying violence.
The film has plenty of nods to the horror genre as a whole, with its folk horror feel of seventies horror house, Tigon. Again, another play on expectations which could easily have been The Slaughtered Lamb in an American Werewolf in London, but it quickly dispels that notion. Not only that there are the visual nods to The Shining as we have an aerial shot of a car moving along a winding road in an expanse of isolated forest.
The cinematography by Hamish Doyne-Ditmas perfectly augments the juxtapositions of the film, capturing the violence of the initial scene, moving to an almost soft fairy tale focus in the preliminary move to the village to harsh, claustrophobicly skewed angles as the films tone changes. In addition, you again catch nods to the horror genre, such as the use of fish eye lenses to denote the creatures perspective, similar to the creature perspective in Cats Eye from the eighties, and the use of lurid filters that reminded me of Ken Russell's The Lair of the White Worm.
The creatures themselves are just as you would expect, again there's this temptation to view them as being almost funny, but these little sods are anything but. They have a propensity to slice and dice their victims and finish them off by eating their liver, literally! It was quite brave to use real representation of the creatures rather than using CGI generated creatures and they work remarkably well. A kind of mix of Jim Henson and a hobgoblin.
Unwelcome is an enjoyable slice of folk horror that carefully and successfully plays with the audience's expectations and perspective to deliver a solid piece of of horror.
Thank you for Reading!