Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 29, 2021)
Supernatural horror flicks influenced by religious topics don’t dominate the genre, but they act as a substantial chunk of those films. In this vein, we find 2021’s The Unholy.
Set in small town Banfield, Massachusetts, a young woman named Alice Pagett (Cricket Brown) can neither hear nor speak. However, one night she thinks the Virgin Mary visits her, and miraculously, she now possesses the abilities she previously lacked, with a new skill: the power to heal the sick.
Unsurprisingly, this creates a major stir among the locals. Eager to revive his career, disgraced journalist Gerry Fenn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) investigates, and he finds potential evil beneath the surface.
As noted, horror stories in this one’s vein don’t exist as especially fresh or original these days. As such, a movie like Unholy needs to bring something fresh to the table to make it succeed.
Does this occur with Unholy? God, no.
Writer/director Evan Spiliotopoulos seems like an odd choice to make this his directorial debut. A look at his filmography shows a focus on family-oriented fantasy and Disney flicks, not supernatural horror.
Of course, this doesn’t mean a filmmaker can’t branch out into different territory. However, you’d think after 25 years in Hollywood, Spiliotopoulos might want to go with his bread and butter for his initial stint as director.
Perhaps down the road Spiliotopoulos will show some skill for this kind of material. As of now, though, Unholy offers little more than a tired collection of horror clichés.
Not that Unholy lacks potential, mainly via the manner in which it looks at the “miracles”. It opens up intriguing topics related to the commodification of these actions, as Banfield threatens to become a new Lourdes and tourist destination.
However, most of Unholy either focuses on cheap fright tactics or boring exposition related to Gerry. In the latter domain, Gerry offers nothing more than a standard down on his luck role who gets the chance at career redemption.
Nothing intriguing about Gerry materializes, and Morgan finds no way to bring verve to the role. Morgan seems to punch the clock, as he appears to understand he finds himself stuck in a bad movie.
As for the former, Unholy barely attempts any kind of horror beyond the standard array of jump scares and supposedly ominous material. Rather than build organic terror, the movie relies on the most cliché techniques imaginable, none of which inspire the slightest hint of fright.
It doesn’t help that the movie makes the inevitable “dark side” completely predictable. We get a prologue from 1845 that hints at this, and then the story strongly points toward the absence of the divine.
All of this makes the inevitable reveal less than shocking, and that becomes one of many reasons Unholy offers a dull, forgettable stab at supernatural horror. I’ve seen worse but this one just goes nowhere.