Directed By Evan Spiliotopoulos
Starring – Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Cricket Brown, William Sadler
The Plot – A hearing-impaired girl (Brown) is visited by the Virgin Mary and can suddenly hear, speak, and heal the sick. As people flock to witness her miracles, terrifying events unfold. Are they the work of the Virgin Mary or something much more sinister?
Rated PG-13 for violent content, terror and some strong adult language
– Superb casting. Let’s be honest, without the swag and stern delivery of Morgan, or the familiarity of Sadler or Cary Elwes carrying the load, “The Unholy” would be a lot worse than it already is. Thankfully, the decision to cast them brought forth an intrigue from within that at the very least kept me interested at all times, harvesting a professionalism from the trio that each approach their respective roles with the kind of commitment that outlines this feeling like the role of a lifetime for each of them. Morgan’s approach to Gerry is crass, unapologetic, and especially influential in taking advantage of the small town the story is set in. He’s mischievious but well intentioned with the ideal of all sides winning, outlining a compelling protagonist for a horror movie who chews as much scenery without feeling like he’s ever phoning his performance in to the detriment of the film. Elwes and Sadler are equally conveying of such attention, but instead of playing against the movie’s themes, their characters very much push influence towards them, showing two sides of respective faith that certainly outlines the idea of religion versus royalties. We won’t get on the subject of Elwes choppy Boston accent, so we can keep this positive.
– Buried deep. Beyond this fluff of a conventional horror movie complete with predictability and an abundance of easily timed jump scares, there actually lurks a series of great ideas from the script that at the very least could’ve made this a more balanced sit. For one, the devotion towards investing yourself in something you’re not fully informed on offers a unique simulation towards religion in general, emitting the dangerous side to beliefs over ideals that often get the better of those who command them. Likewise, the sprinkling of celebrity by the media plays an equally heavy hand with global influence, often times seeking a hooking header of the factuality of what accompanies it. These hefty dissections are on the surface level of the film’s attention, but often smothered by a series of cliches within the horror genre that keep us from ever fully exploring it, and make me wish this was an entirely different movie all together, where this premise could receive the growth in exploration that it needs towards making this a memorable premise.
– Unique sound. While the A.D.R of audio deposits occasionally left me chuckling for the way words didn’t line up in the mouths of characters, there are some tweaks to the sound mixing that easily made this the highlight of the film’s creative think tank. Such is evident during initial sequences with Brown’s Alice, where her deafness comes into play in immersing us to her predicament. Whenever a character is speaking to her or acknowledging her, we get a brief muting of the universal sound surrounding her, with a faint beep in the distance for authenticity. It’s nothing that remains consistent throughout the film, as obviously her situation changes as evidenced by the plot, but it does offer occasional springs of creativity in illustrating things from her perspective that I did appreciate, giving us insight into the depiction that does elevate the physical transformation.
– Thrill-less. There is nothing developed from Spiliotopoulos that even remotely plays into the kind of unsettling circumstance that this movie needed to make the most of the material. For starters, the complete lack of atmosphere, both in the rudimentary musical score and non-existent color correction, makes this feel like a strained effort, where Evan turned on a camera, but did very little in post production to get it a unique vision of its own. This not only keeps “The Unholy” from ever feeling like a true horror film, but it also aligns the audience with very little artistic substance during those moments of tension-building vulnerability before the frights. This outlines the whole experience as completely forgettable while dramatically underscoring the chill factor that practically leaps from the pages of the book that this movie is based on.
– Predictable. Speaking of frights, this movie, like the previous thousands that came before it, decides to unload a bunch of its pay-off’s in these series of obvious, uneffective jolts of jump scares that are so humiliatingly rendered that you can’t help but laugh at their juvenile execution. Part of me expects these in horror movies, because in 2021 it seems like the majority of horror directors prescribe more to scares meaning jumps instead of absorbingly thick and unnerving atmosphere, but what’s so aggravating about their inclusion here is what’s shown before the jumps even happen. Most of the supernatural presence plaguing our protagonists is often shown standing still before the jolts ever happen. This means you always expect something to come of it, otherwise, why would they ever even focus on her? In addition this, the abundance of them are completely uneven, becoming problematic in the second half. For the first half of the movie, it’s almost like Evan forgets this even is a horror film, but once that halfway point happens, the movie becomes drowned in obvious jump scares, proving how very little it has in attaching itself to the nerves of the audience.
– Artistically flat. I have looked everywhere for the budget of “The Unholy”, but have come up with nothing to confirm my suspicions that this is a limited budget with much in the bank to enhance some of the worst special effects that I have seen in years. Part of me thinks the bigger problem is the director’s decision to reach for so much computer generation, and it ultimately proving unnecessary to the kind of limited movements behind the camera. But the overwhelming weakness is in the illustrations, which I compare to feeling like the cartoon characters of Tom and Jerry influencing a live action world surrounding them. The herky, jerky movements of this supernatural presence reminds me of mid 2000’s cinema, like “Silent Hill” or “Resident Evil”, where tricks in editing in post production breeds an inhuman movement to their enveloping. The problem is it becomes more obvious the more and the longer you use it, and this movie is unabashedly practical in this desire.
– Missing pulse. For my money, this film should’ve treated the surrounding town as a character of its own in this movie, especially considering the film revolves around community faith and what role that plays in dominance. In reading about the production, this is one of many films that Covid-19 affected dearly, in that Spiliotopoulos could only bring back a few of the same re-occurring extras during scenes of exposition to accommodate shooting guidelines at the time, and it certainly feels evident with the complete lack of commentary from within that raises speculation or even coherence for the supernatural events developing from this deaf woman before their very eyes. The lack of growth completely stilts its presence as the stage that hangs these events in the balance, and is one of many avenues of expression that I wish the film explored with more balanced time to take the weight off of the shoulders of its dominant lead cast.
– Spoon-fed exposition. When did telling a story become so overtly complicated? I ask this because films in contemporary times feel saddled with this need to unload so much information over the course of a scene or two, instead of an entire movie, and “The Unholy” is certainly no different in this regard. Of course, it starts with the abundance of convenience that stems from outsider characters being able to appropriately find everything they’re looking for, but it’s made even worse with these long diatribes of evident intention that practically reaches out to the audience from beyond, and says “Here is where you will want to pay attention”. In fact, the film and character backstories are so on-the-nose and obvious that quite often time and reality from around them stands still, and instead of us receiving these quick tidbits of information on the way to enhance context of the following scene, there’s so much to make up for that it takes about five minutes each time it happens. If I were five years old, this would be helpful. As a thirty-six year old film lover, I’d rather be rewarded based on my investment to the film.
– Arduous pacing. Yet another problem that arises because of the lack of thrills is an overwhelming boredom by the end of the first act and early second act that goes a long time without conflict progression. This is the time frame for the film where we show the effects of Brown’s newfound powers, but the problem is it materializes for so long that it often forgets that this is a horror film first and foremost. 94 minutes is certainly a brisk run time for the movie to remain consistently entertaining without sagging by the way of derivative storytelling, but it never even reaches the halfway mark before running out of proverbial gas or originality, making much of the second act plagued by derivative scenes and sequences that much of a chore to get through because we feel like we already have. With more set up of the initial engagements, as well as a more spread out backstory of its protagonist, all of the pieces could’ve fit right for this supernatural thriller. As it stands, however, we’re left with a tedious experience that feels twice that of the reality in run time.
– Inconsistencies. To get in depth here, it would require spoiling the entirety of the movie, so instead I will choose to reveal a couple of inconsequential instances that had me scratching my head. One such occasion is during the movie’s opening scene (Why waste time?), where a sacrifice is taking shape, and the elementary level of sound mixing offers a delayed and repetitious effect in going to the same well twice in the same scene. This makes it very obvious that the same clip was used, and completely removed me from the investment and integrity of the scene. Another instance is with the continuity errors that stem from poorly unattentive direction. Such as with Morgan’s journalist character taking video of the girl’s first miracle. We know it’s video because we see it like we’re watching it from his perspective. The problem is in the next scene, he’s looking at pictures in his hotel from the same angles he shot. So it goes from video to pictures. What the hell? Finally, the movie’s ending itself is framed with satisfaction despite its resolution feeling ambiguous to anyone who was paying attention. This overlooks the level of power with the conflict itself that completely destroys the rules and logic that the film previously established, and sends us home with inevitable disappointment in the same vein that the rest of the movie did.
My Grade: 3/10 or F