Unwelcome, directed by Jon Wright from a screenplay he co-wrote with Mark Stay, follows a young couple who flee from their dangerous London neighborhood to the Irish countryside to seek a safe and healthy environment for their unborn child. Their excitement for this new chapter of their lives is disrupted when the couple faces a family of unruly contractors who become a reminder of the menacing life they left behind. However, the human threat is nothing compared to what lives behind the couple’s new home. A blood sacrifice is required to keep them at bay, but the very pregnant Maya will learn the hard way that her promise to carry on the tradition carries real consequences if broken. With the threats in both human and redcap form, Maya must overcome her fears to bring her beloved child into the world safely.
The film’s concept will easily capture one’s attention and go so far as to encourage one to watch it. Plenty of projects in the low-budget/B-movie horror area of the genre play with folklore and bring them to the modern day, and they are a joy to watch. Wright has a compelling story on his hands, blending Irish folklore with the far darrig and a touch of Brother Grimm with an urban setting opens up a lot of possibilities. However, with the added subplot of the human threat to Maya (Hannah John-Kamen) and her partner Jamie (Douglas Booth), the far darrig take a backseat to what should be their story. Unwelcome is Gremlins meets Stray Dogs, and while those influences are very much present, they don’t blend well together.
The folk horror effectively realizes the far darrig, and despite low budget restraints, they look great. In fact, the film is well-made overall, with its ethereal yet haunting Irish countryside crafted to be the perfect backdrop for this story. However, the center of the folklore isn’t integrated into the story in a way that effectively utilizes their presence, their lore, and the threat they pose. In addition, the Whelans, the contractors from hell, feel like they belong in an entirely different movie. There comes a point where Wright should have decided what threat Maya and Jamie are up against. On the surface, one can see that Wright is attempting to tell a story that showcases the cruelty of humans and contrasts that to the nature of the far darrig, but it sucks the fun out of the whole adventure involving the far darrig.
The narrative also bulks under the pressure of its potential when it fails to develop Maya and get her to where she is in the finale. The sudden shift in her persona exposes the disjointed nature of this hodgepodge horror. The film also stumbles on the comedic beats, which hint at a version of this film that could have taken a horror-comedy route, à la Shaun of the Dead. With so much thrown into the pot, it’s hard to determine what the audience is meant to enjoy. How the film concludes Maya’s journey to motherhood feels sudden and unprovoked, with little work done to lay the foundation for such an extreme response to her situation. A key element of the final act is the twisted fairytale that Maya is wrapped in, but without the far darrig being central to the plot, the conclusion just falls flat.
Unwelcome is many things — entertaining is one of them. But with little focus on what actually makes this film worthwhile, the result is disappointing. The film is also roughly 20 minutes too long and could have been a far more thrilling endeavor if it were more precise and concise. Despite admirable work from the ensemble cast, most notably Hannah John-Kamen and Douglas Booth, Unwelcome stumbles hard. There is plenty of good, but no one wants to watch a movie that feels like it is one to two drafts away from being a better supernatural horror.
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Unwelcome opened in theaters on Wednesday, March 8 and will be available on digital Tuesday, March 14.