The Unholy Review: Revisiting The Satanic Realms Too Often But Minus The Terror

The Unholy
The Unholy

The Unholy is set for an Easter weekend release and harps back to the theme of Satan and the Christian concept that good and evil coexist in purely binary terms. It takes an interesting concept but does little to take it to an engrossing conclusion.

The Unholy has been made keeping in mind the followers of the religious horror film genre. Jeffrey Dean Morgan returns a decade later, after tackling the malevolent spirit in ‘The Possession’ and is back under the same banner, Ghost House Pictures of Sam Raimi. But in place of the wandering spirit of Jewish folklore, we are in the realms of Catholic Demonology, hidden in the stained earth of Massachusetts and its charred witches.

An Intriguing Start Soon Disintegrates Into A Series Of Cheap Thrills

The Unholy has an intriguing start that builds up expectations. The director takes his time in building up the characters and a terrifying atmosphere, putting off the first of the many deaths. But then the film descends into banality and rhetoric. It harks back to the same rehashed motifs that have been whipped to death in films right from Ringu, the Japanese mystery horror, to The Conjuring Universe.  Not much to get your blood pumping and your heart thumping.

The Unholy has stayed faithful to the output churned out by Ghost House over the years after Sam Raimi took over the mantle of director. It began with Drag Me To Hell, the viciously engrossing movie from their stable back in 2009. But horror flick remains more of a passable endeavor that stays true production values, but has nothing much by way of originality. Perhaps only Don’t Breathe remains a notable exception.

The home-invasion horror movie relied on less blood and had none of the spookiness or the supernatural. The movie was in production just as the pandemic shut down life. But writer-director Evan Spiliotopoulos has made a mess of a captivating concept and the story of The Unholy eventfully slides into boredom.

The Unholy: Losing Focus And Letting Go Of A Potential Thriller

The Unholy
The Unholy

The storyline is based on Shrine, written in 1983 by James Herbert. It is the story of journalist Gerry as he desperately searches for a story and wanders into a small town in New England and brings his stained reputation as a journalist to the farming village, Banfield. He runs into Alice, who has been cured of her deafness thanks to a holy visitation. Word gets around of the miracle, but then comes in her new friend Mary, who wants to reach as many people as possible,’ and then all hell breaks loose.

The Unholy begins with a lynching in 1845, seen through the eyes of a woman as she is burnt at a stake.  About to give up on getting even a fabricated tale from this quaint community, Gerry comes across a talisman, a ‘curb baby’ doll that was used in the past to ward off holy spirits. He smashes it in the hope of finding a story inside.

Alice speaks of a dream of the Virgin Mary. She speaks about spreading the dual message of love and faith through ‘The Lady.’ And the community is convinced when she helps cure a boy ravaged by muscular dystrophy. Word soon spreads that the ancient oak tree, the location of an unspeakable crime in the distant past, is the place to go for miracles.

The skeptical Gerry also is convinced and Alice decides to confide only in him. He realizes that he has hit the jackpot, an exclusive right to a modern-day miracle tree. He teams up with Natalie, the local doctor, at odds with the village clergy. The Bishop of the village counts on the fortune such a tale can bring to the village and boost his flock of the religious. It would also help him rise up the archdiocese. The inquisitor from the Vatican here to verify the claim is bent on negating the claim.

Father Hagan appears doomed from the start. He tells Gerry that the devil lives in proximity with God, and a sign of strong faith hides the presence of Satan. He finds an ancient notebook that reveals frightening details about a different Mary, visiting from the distant past.

The initial balance of the supernatural and Gerry’s investigative line soon gets swept away into the banal. The religious background in The Unholy score by Joseph Bishara supports the eerie atmosphere, but soon the plot begins to disintegrate. The atmosphere is also supported up to this point.

But as Gerry begins to unravel the sinister powers hiding behind the cloak of divinity, the movie rapidly degenerates into low-grade horror bordering on the asinine. We have a screaming ghoul mouthing lines like, “Now! Do you believe me?”

A Weakness Of Characterization Mars The Storyline Of The Unholy

The Unholy
The Unholy

An obvious shortcoming is that the supporting cast has not been fleshed enough. Only Gerry has his character-filled out. Brown also does justice initially and her character, Alice has just the right balance between the spiritual and innocence. But the stupidity of the horror sequence makes any attempt at bringing a sense of the eerie into the movie fall flat.

A Narrative That Seems Interrupted By The Virus

The interruption of the pandemic must have played with the production schedule. There are several original effects, for instance, ink vaporizing from the sheets of the holy text. But some are downright hackneyed, like a crucifix spontaneously combusting. And the more Mary sends out her wicked threats, the less frightening she becomes. And as she dives down into the holy Feast and turns it into chaos, she has lost any semblance of horror and has turned into a pathetic caricature.

An Initial Sparkle That Disappoints Terribly

Despite the much-flogged theme, the movie had thrown up initial hope of a strong entrant to the horror genre. It explores the danger of blind faith and the belief that the devil stays in proximity to godliness. But Spiliotopoulos fails miserable and degenerates into a cheap imitation of the horror genre. The visuals have none of the dread as the creatures that come back a century later through Alice are too distorted and indistinct to evoke any horror.

Morgan is somewhat redeeming in his role. But Cary Elwes as the local Bishop and Katie Aselton as the know-it-all doctor are misfits to the script. The trite visuals are even more disturbing considering that the reputation of Sam Raimi is at stake here. The horror he gave us back in 2009 is a world apart from the trash dished out in this movie. The Unholy promises to be torture for horror movie fans. And in the end, we are left wishing that Satan had the power to wipe out such dreary films.

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