Releasing just in time for the holiest of the Christian holidays, Director Evan Spiliotopoulos’s supernatural horror film, THE UNHOLY, based on James Herbert’s novel Shrine, has arrived. Dabbling in the subgenre of possession films, you might be wondering if THE UNHOLY brings anything new to the table. Unfortunately, for this critic, the answer is no.
In THE UNHOLY, a disgraced journalist (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) visits a small New England town where he happens upon a porcelain “kern baby,” a protective doll used by farmers in days of old. When he breaks the talisman, he unleashes a supernatural force…but is it a miraculous phenomenon or something more sinister?
Watching this film as a fan of possession movies was an experience because, as much as enjoyed the production design and the cast, the story ultimately suffered from being incredibly bland, something no one wants to experience during a horror film. No one is expecting The Exorcist here, but you at least want the audience to feel a semblance of nervous excitement over what they are viewing.
The highlight of the film definitely falls upon the shoulders of newcomer, Cricket Brown. A theater actor performing in her feature film, she steals the limelight with her performance and exudes the soft, sinless young woman audiences come to associate with these types of movies. While Jeffrey Dean Morgan fails to bring much of anything to the film, and if I’m being honest it felt like he was phoning it in most times, Brown made sure to steer the ship while also holding the viewer’s attention.
In terms of scares, THE UNHOLY features your run-of-the-mill jump scares. That said, contortionist Marina Mazepa, who tackles both the vision of Mary and the demonic entity, is fantastic. I’m a person that gets very uncomfortable when someone is able to move their body in an unnatural way, so you can only imagine my horror when Mazepa’s contortionist skills come into play, especially during a scene in which we see her climbing out of a pool of water.
Where I think the film stumbles the most is in the way it executes the story. Visually, it’s a beautiful film to look at and Spiliotopoulos is, at times, able to conjure up a cold, sinister atmosphere. The issue with that is we, as the viewer, are only left with a pretty picture and not a whole lot of character depth. This is unfortunate because it left me disinterested in the majority of the characters, plus you never really feel like they’re in any type of danger. Also, for a film produced by Sam Raimi, who’s produced such films as Crawl, Don’t Breathe, 2013’s Evil Dead, and more, you would think the film would pack a bit more of a punch. Instead, the film itself just feels safe.
Overall, THE UNHOLY is a predictable, unmemorable possession film that doesn’t do much in terms of getting the audience to care about what’s happening. Ultimately, I would have liked to have seen it pushed more to the edge and fleshed out more so that we could really see what the film was capable of offering. That said, for his directorial feature debut, Spiliotopoulos does show potential and, with more focus on crafting his directorial skills, I think he could surprise us all in the future.
THE UNHOLY is now in theaters.
Disclaimer/Editor’s Note: Nightmarish Conjurings doesn’t endorse seeing movies in theaters at this time due to the pandemic. Please consider VOD and/or Drive-In options and, if you go to the theater, please be safe.
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