While this year’s movie releases have clearly been affected by the pandemic, there has been no shortage of horror movies in early 2021. One of the latest is the new Sam Raimi produced supernatural horror flick “The Unholy”. The film marks the directorial debut for Evan Spiliotopoulos who also wrote and co-produced this adaptation of James Herbert’s 1983 best-selling novel “Shrine”.
“The Unholy” sees Jeffrey Dean Morgan playing a very Jeffrey Dean Morgan character. He stars as Gerry Fenn, a disgraced Boston journalist and overall slimeball who lost his job and credibility fudging facts to spice up a news story. Now he’s forced to take any small freelance assignment he can get just to make ends meet. And that’s what leads him to Banfield, a small and cozy central Massachusetts town with a warm welcome sign that reads “A little piece of God’s country”. He’s there to report on claims of mutilated livestock by area farmers. When one is quick to attribute it to Satanists having “unholy orgies”, Gerry realizes his trip was a bust.
But before he leaves town something potentially newsworthy happens. An 18-year-old hearing-impaired girl named Alice (Cricket Brown) who has never uttered a word in her life shocks the small town when she suddenly speaks. Not only that, but she can now hear and she seems to possess the gift of divine healing. Alice claims to have been touched by the Virgin Mary and begins relaying messages from “the Lady” to the local Catholic congregation. Gerry smells a story and more importantly for him a chance to reignite his career.
But remember, this is a horror movie so of course things aren’t quite what they seem. Alice’s “miracles” soon gets national attention and believers flock to Banfield. Even the Vatican takes notice and begin their own investigation to either confirm or debunk the miracle. During it all Gerry is given exclusive access to Alice, something that starts as an opportunist’s dream but soon opens his eyes to his own self-absorption.
The movie’s slow-burning buildup turns out to be considerably better than its iffy ending which for several reasons doesn’t quite pass the smell test. Along the way Spiliotopoulos manages to capture some chilling imagery and pretty good horror movie atmosphere. But too often the tension feels manufactured and it’s pretty easy to see how some of the scenes are going to play out. And if jump scares aren’t your thing, beware. There aren’t a ton of them but enough to cheapen what could have been some of the movie’s spookier scenes.
Some fun faces pop up in supporting roles including William Sadler as the haggard town priest and Alice’s uncle. And Carl Ewes plays a church-sanctioned investigator sent by the Vatican to comb over and evaluate Alice’s miracle. Small treats aside, “The Unholy” ends up being a pretty vanilla horror movie. It starts with promise but hits too many familiar beats and can’t fully stick its landing. It’s far from terrible, but it’s an example of a movie built around some good ideas but not really sure how to bring them all together. “The Unholy” opens tomorrow (April 2nd) in theaters.
VERDICT – 2.5 STARS