The Unholy - A Hooked On Horror Review
Updated: Jun 12, 2022
Last Monday I got to do something I have not had the pleasure of doing in over a year...I got to watch a film in a cinema. And yes it was bloody brilliant! It is one thing I have majorly missed as I feel films (some more than others) need to be seen on a big screen to be fully appreciated, so I will always say make an effort to hit the cinemas if you can. And honestly they need us lot now more than ever after the last year. I'll come back to a bit of information regarding the new way cinemas are operating at the end of this review.
So my first film back was the new Sam Raimi produced horror The Unholy, written and directed by Evan Spiliotopoulos. Based on the 1983 novel Shrine, by James Herbert, the film delves into the infamous and historical Witch trials and hunts Massachusetts is famous for, mythologies of the Catholic church and even old Celtic traditions.
A hearing-impaired girl, Alice (Cricket Brown), can suddenly hear, speak and heal the sick after a supposed visit from the Virgin Mary. Disgraced journalist, Gerry Finn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), begins to investigate as thousands flock to the small New England town to witness her miracles. However, when strange and disturbing events start to occur, he soon wonders if this is the work of the Virgin Mary or something more sinister.
I've got to be honest folks, this one may have slipped past me had I not been checking cinema screenings. I'd completely forgotten about it. I'm pretty happy I managed to catch this one on the big screen as I feel it was a good first film back, I really enjoyed it.
It begins rather loudly and abruptly, and for me personally it came as a bit of a shock. The film basically opens on a POV shot of a woman who sounds like she is being tortured by some sort of religious cult. As the Priest mutters his prayers in order to 'save this woman's soul' he instructs one of his flock to set her on fire. The Priest clutching a pretty messed up looking doll (a Kern Baby) is the last thing she sees before the fire consumes her completely. Cuts out to a wide shot as this woman's burnt corpse dangles from an oak tree in a lone field. A pretty bold way to start the film if I'm honest but it had me intrigued.
Fast forward to present day as the film introduces Gerry Finn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a washed-up journalist whose speciality includes all the bizarre, supernatural and weird yet wonderful goings on for the newspapers. Once a well respected journalist, Gerry now finds himself disgraced and writing puff pieces as he was found to be fabricating stories for fame and fortune. He is in the quiet, quaint town of Banfield investigating a story of possible Witchcraft and Satanism in town after a bizarre mark is found on a cows rear. Of course, being complete bullshit he tries to spice up the story by smashing a 'Kern Baby' he found in the base of the same oak tree we saw in the film's opening. Kern Babies are an old Scottish tradition with Celtic farmers. Farmers would bury them at the end of their fields in order to bring good luck. And according to the folklore specified in this scene, they can also be used to hold in Evil Spirits. I kind of figured out whatever Gerry just released from that doll was not good; and I was correct! It's a nice way to establish a clear cut and easy narrative immediately. I will admit although things did get somewhat predictable from here, I still throughly enjoyed the flick...and there was a few surprises here and there throughout.
So Gerry finishes up his crummy story in order to pay for his next bottle of whiskey and decides to drive home leaving sleepy little Banfield behind him. Driving home he swerves narrowly avoiding an angelic looking woman (Alice [Cricket Brown]) who was standing in the middle of the road. Unable to drive on, he follows Alice to the oak tree where he witnesses her speaking in whispers before she faints. Gerry then takes her to her Uncle, Father Hagan (William Sadler). Despite Gerry's objections to Father Hagan and Dr. Natalie Gates (Katie Aselton) that he heard her speak we find out Alice has been deaf and dumb since birth. The next day at mass Alice starts proclaiming to have been visited by the Virgin Mary, and that 'The Lady' has spoken in great detail to her about spreading the message of faith.
Father Hagan grows concerned for his niece as he worries about hysteria infecting the congregation of his small church next to the field and oak tree. When people begin to flock to the church having heard of her visions, Alice heals a young boy with muscular dystrophy which in turn creates talks of a miracle within her and the church. Even skeptic Gerry seems convinced, and as Alice is only agreeing to talk with him he may have found a legitimate story that could save his career and reputation. However he runs into unlikely opposition from the church- Bishop Gyles (Cary Elwes) and Vatican inquisitor Monsignor Delgarde (Diogo Morgado). Gyles is too busy trying to calculate what a Banfield shrine could do to boost the flagging numbers of the faithful, as well as his own stature within the archdiocese. Delgarde however has been sent to authenticate the claim of a visitation from the Virgin Mary although he seems more determined to disprove it. I had the feeling there was more than meets the eye with Bishop Gyles due to him turning a blind eye to a lot of events that go down later in the film.
Alice cures Father Hagan of his late-stage emphysema, it comes at a price though. Father Hagan finally sees what is behind the miracles...and it is far from holy. As he says earlier in the film "When God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel next door" and he could not have been more right! Shortly after his recovery, he finds an old notebook in the brickwork written in Latin that reveals alarming information about another Mary from the past. All begins to unravel as they fight to try contain the evil that has unleashed itself on Banfield.
All in all The Unholy a rather enjoyable film that echoes of the classics like The Exorcist and The Omen. Beautifully shot the film features a good balance of supernatural horror and investigative thriller. It does have a few jump scares littered throughout to appease those types of horror fans but for me the real chills came from the slow burn scenes and a fantastic score from Joseph Bishara. There's two scenes in particular that stood out for me- the first being where Father Hagan takes a woman's confession; as her voice slowly changes you realise it is in fact Mary Elnor come to take his soul. Makes for a very creepy scene that reminded me of old school horror The Omen. The second being the scene Gerry and Natalie try to get hold of the book Father Hagan found and they encounter Mary for the first time.
The cast was good and had some decent chemistry, although there wasn't a lot of character development par Morgan's character Gerry. I would've loved to have seen more of Father Hagan and I feel there was a missed opportunity to do something more with Cary Elwes character. I kept thinking he was going to be secretly in on it and working against the church to try and bring Mary back. Perhaps it may have been too cliché but that's the impression I got from the way Elwes portrayed the character.
There's some pretty cool visual effects and moments throughout, highlight for me being the bible verses melting off a page. I loved the design of Mary, I do think they made a mistake showing her without her mask at the end as she looked far creepier with it on. I do feel they didn't overdo it though as the ending is the only time you really get a proper look at her. Story wise it was nothing special, pacing was good and it kept me interested throughout but as I said previously I feel there's a few times they missed the mark though. I thought the use to the Kern babies was amazing, something new in a horror film for a change. It'll be interesting to see if these pop up in any more films in the near future. My guessing would be yes as they are creepy as hell!
To conclude The Unholy is a fun way to spend an hour and a half occasionally jumping as you watch Negan try to take on a demon who's tricking people into thinking she's a religious icon.
I went to Odeon and of course with the current situation and coming out the back end of the Corona Virus pandemic, the cinema isn't the way it used to be...a new normal if I'm honest as I can't see this changing anytime soon. So here's a few things you'll need to know before going.
Book online or download the app. Everything I bought yesterday (my tickets and food & drink) were all bought through the app to keep contact with staff and other guests minimal. You will be sent an email with your purchases or they will appear on the app. A staff member will then scan your ticket on your phone.
Cinema snacks and drinks are still available to all guests, but as I said above you usually buy them online or before hand. You'll be given an order number which you then collect when it's called. You can still purchase snacks the old fashioned way.
Everything is paid for by contactless or card payments. At the moment they will not except cash.
You WILL need a mask. A mask covering your nose and mouth is required until you sit down in your seat in the screening.
You have to sit in the seat(s) you have booked. In keeping with social distancing guidelines, the booking system keeps 3 chairs in front, behind and either side of you clear. If you wish to change seats speak to a staff member and they may be able to help you out. You will be expected to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
When you arrive you will be required to list contact details for your party for track and trace purposes.
If at any point before your booking do you feel ill, unwell or begin showing symptoms of CoVid-19, contact your cinema and DO NOT attend the screening.
The staff were fantastic and incredibly helpful. Anything at all you are uncertain on or need a hand with just give them a shout. Be kind, courteous, wear your mask, use the hand sanitiser and wash your hands, keep your distance and most of all just enjoy being back there folks. It is something I didn't realise I took for granted until it was too late! Of course I'm speaking more about Odeon Cinemas as that was my experience, but I can't imagine it would be any different for the likes of Cineworld, Showcase or Vue.
I'm just incredibly happy to be back in the cinema!