THE UNHOLY Review; "Jeffrey Dean Morgan And Cricket Brown Do Their Best To Elevate The Material"
The Unholy arrives in UK cinemas today, but does the Sam Raimi-produced horror movie managed to overcome some familiar tropes to deliver at least some genuine scares? Find our verdict after the jump...
Jeffrey Dean Morgan is, without a doubt, one of the most underrated actors working today. It's a great shame he didn't join The Walking Dead before the quality of that series started to decline because Negan is a role that should have put him on the map and given him a better choice of projects to choose from. Despite that, the actor remains someone with the ability to enhance the most underwhelming of material, and The Unholy definitely benefits from his presence. That's not to say Evan Spiliotopoulos' (who penned the screenplays for movies like Beauty and the Beast, Charlie's Angels, and the upcoming Snake Eyes) directorial debut is by any means awful, but it definitely falls into too far many familiar trappings despite a premise that could have taken the horror genre to new places. As a result, it's hard not to watch Morgan here and think that he deserves better.
The Supernatural alum plays a washed-up journalist who, after falsifying stories in the past, has now resorted to chasing down leads about so-called supernatural occurrences. However, after stumbling across a hearing-impaired girl, Alice, who, after being visited by the Virgin Mary, gains the ability to hear, speak, and heal the sick, he finds himself with the biggest story of the century in his hands. As you might expect, though, there's more to "Mary" than meets the eye, and this sinister presence soon takes the small New England town The Unholy is set in to some very dark places.
It's an interesting, albeit familiar premise, and one that features some genuine scares and intense sequences. With Sam Raimi (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) producing, it's no wonder Spiliotopoulos had that side of things covered, and Mary is an intriguing antagonist. It's a shame that the mythology surrounding her isn't better explored, while hit-and-miss VFX means the design is underwhelming and one that could have been better realised on-screen with practical effects. Cricket Brown is a standout as Alice, though, and has a tonne of chemistry with Morgan that goes some way in making up for the fact that it often feels like every other actor is just going through the motions. William Sadler, however, is enjoyable to spend time with as Father Hagan, especially as his priest is one of the movie's few departures from the expected.
The Unholy is unlikely to go down as one of the year's best horror movies, but for fans of the genre, it's not one that should be overlooked. Unfortunately, Spiliotopoulos' screenplay just hits too many familiar beats and doesn't explore the new ones it introduces in anywhere near enough depth. It's those tropes that hurt the movie most, and while there is room to tell horror stories with religious undertones, this one borrows too much from past efforts to really do much more than make a fleeting impression.
On the plus side, the writer definitely proves himself a capable director and had there been a little more money in the budget, another twenty minutes on the runtime, and a higher rating than PG-13 (it's somehow a 15 in the UK), The Unholy could have been something special. Spiliotopoulos also successfully manages to instil a sense of dread in proceedings and shoots the action in an atmospheric way that eventually pays off with a satisfying conclusion. The movie makes for easy watching and is frightening enough to leave you on the edge of your seat on more than one occasion. It's never outright bad, and should be an entertaining diversion for horror lovers while we wait for the likes of A Quiet Place Part II, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, and Candyman.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Cricket Brown do their best to elevate the material, but The Unholy falls into too many familiar trappings to be anything more than an entertaining, albeit occasionally scary, diversion.