[Movie Review] UNWELCOME

Folklore is a great source of inspiration for horror, especially when you tap into folklore surrounding the fae. These creatures are anything but nice. Large swaths of them are downright terrifying. After all, there are reasons why there are so many superstitious traditions maintained to this day. In the case of UNWELCOME, we finally see the spotlight shine on the dangers of the Redcaps. The question is whether director Jon Wright’s and screenwriter Mark Stay’s vision of these frightening little buggers elicits fear in the viewer or not.

After a home invasion, newly pregnant couple Maya (Hannah John-Kamen) and Jamie (Douglas Booth) relocate to the Irish countryside after Jamie’s relative passes. Here in this newly inherited home, they can rebuild. However, there are caveats. Maya is informed by their next-door neighbor that they need to leave out blood sacrifices nightly for the little people. More specifically, the redcaps. If they do not, then calamity will fall upon their house.

At first, Maya is dismissive of this. But, as is generally the case, her beliefs are shaken when strange things start to happen around their home. If that wasn’t enough for the heavily pregnant woman, she also has to contend with her own PTSD, her partner’s feelings of emasculation, and this strangely dangerous family that they’ve hired to try to fix up the place.

PTSD, Pride & Puppies

Courtesy Well Go USA

UNWELCOME is an interesting film. I say interesting because, while I personally enjoyed it, it’s got some undeniable issues. What first starts as a rehabilitation story surrounding Maya and Jamie soon curves away from them, focusing on the Whelan family more so than the story warrants, before diving off a cliff into more overtly comedic territory. The tonal transition from second to the final act is abrupt, much like its ending, and will likely throw off viewers.

Going from more serious fare to something that rides the fine line of accidental camp is a challenging act. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work here to give a cohesive final product. That said, the third act of UNWELCOME is chuckle-inducing. The actors give 100% while the redcaps steal the show with their silly murder shenanigans. It’s so hard to take these blood-worshipping creatures seriously when they remind of Jim Henson’s goblins from the Labyrinth.

Cinematographer Hamish Doyne-Ditmas does well in capturing the perspective of the redcaps. We see these from their eye level earlier on in the film while Wright teases their presence. A mixture of practical effects and VFX are used to bring them to life in an amusing fashion. The thing is that the redcaps have to compete with thematic story elements like the aftereffects of PTSD, emasculation, and missing dogs. With so much going on, they feel like an afterthought until they emerge in the second half.

Performance maketh the man

Courtesy Well Go USA

The best part about UNWELCOME, aside from how funny the redcaps come across, is the performances delivered by the actors. Hannah John Kamen is the glue that holds a lot of the emotional heart of this film together. Dealing with the physicality of Maya’s pregnancy while also navigating the different emotional beats her character undergoes, she is a delight no matter what Wright and Stay throw at her.

Douglas Booth’s Jamie is a man familiar to us all and, honestly, a decent portrayal of how people can center themselves while processing trauma. In the process, they become oblivious to what’s going on. In a relationship, this has devastating consequences and we see how close Jamie comes to losing it all.

Colm Meaney as – sorry – Daddy Whelan is layered. Initially, we see him as keeping that family together, but slowly the violence emerges in how he treats his kids and the newly relocated English couple. We know the violence he is capable of and it comes as no surprise when he turns out to be more of a concern than the redcaps themselves.

Overall, UNWELCOME is a creature feature horror film that, regrettably, waits too long on the creatures up until the third act. Unintentionally hilarious at points, if the entire film had matched the energy of the film’s final 20 minutes or so, I can imagine it being an easy fave. As is, it is unbalanced in what it’s trying to get across.

UNWELCOME releases in theaters March 10th as it’s part of the AMC Thrills & Chills lineup, and on Digital Tuesday, March 14th!

Sarah Musnicky
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