If there’s one thing you learn watching horror movies, it’s that human beings can be scarier than any fantasy monsters. Everything from Cape Fear to Silence of the Lambs to Get Out runs on the idea of sinister people being out to get us for one reason or another, and thus connect more viscerally than your average creature scare movie.
The new horror-thriller Unwelcome is at its best when it uses this idea of the people around us being the scariest beasts, though adds a touch of fantasy that doesn’t impact much until the end and thus feels a tad out of place until then. However, that doesn’t stop the film from being a solidly creepy and entertaining story that’s well worth your time.
The Greatest Strength of Unwelcome Is Its Actors’ Chemistry
After being attacked in their London flat, pregnant Maya (Hannah John-Kamen) and her husband Jamie (Douglas Booth) are left a house in the Irish countryside by Jamie’s recently-passed aunt. Upon their arrival, the couple are told that auntie used to leave raw liver outside near the forest to feed the Redcaps, leprechaun-esque creatures that supposedly reside there and that they should do the same.
Begrudgingly agreeing to this proviso, the couple hire the Whelan family (Colm Meaney, Chris Walley, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, Kristian Naim) to make house repairs, only for the family to despise them for their British heritage. As tensions escalate, the two groups must learn to co-exist or have things end in potential bloodshed.
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Unwelcome is a good piece of entertainment. Generally, I prefer it if horror movies either slowly drift into scary territory or begin with their horror in a grounded place before going more outlandish. This film wisely takes the latter approach and had me hooked from the very beginning, eager to see where the story was going and rooting for the central couple.
I appreciated the believable dynamic and chemistry between John-Kamen and Booth in both light and dramatic moments and felt they both sold their trauma in a grounded way. John-Kamen has the heavier lifting to do emotionally here, and as with her serious role in Ant-Man & The Wasp, she does quite well even into the crazier final section. Booth also does a good job with his character’s gradual descent into frustration and anger at his lack of control over the situation around him, ensuring he always feels real rather than exaggerated.
As good as John-Kamen and Booth are, Unwelcome’s human villains leave just as strong a mark. Colm Meaney has delivered strong supporting work for over 30 years now and relishes this chance at a larger role. From the moment he steps onscreen, the man exudes bad vibes and only worsens as the runtime goes on. Walley and Naim play his children, who hate our heroes for their non-Irish roots, do well not to make the characters’ disdain fall into caricature but rather a believable hatred that they show at every opportunity.
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There were times where I was wondering why the film included a fantasy aspect at all, given that so much of it is smartly focused on the tension between the couple and the Whelans. I could very easily see a version of this film that took the fantasy aspect out in favor of centering the horror entirely around that human tension, but as it is, when the film gets to its fantasy element, it’s handled pretty well.
Final Thoughts On Unwelcome
Speaking of that fantasy element, it really only comes into play in the film’s final third act. It’s mentioned here and there at the start, but much of the midsection doesn’t emphasize it all that much. However, if you are coming for that aspect, the third act delivers on it in a ghoulish way without undercutting too much of the human horror that drove the rest of the story.
There is a slight shift in tone when this pops up, but it delivers some good gore and a dark finale that ties everything together. The effects work is also well-done and doesn’t overtake the story or characters when present. The creature designs are creepy enough and scary when they need to be, but I applaud the film for not overusing them. The more believable you can make your horror scenario, the scarier it will be for both the heroes and the audience, and Unwelcome did that well for me.
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Unwelcome is a good and creepy way to spend your Saturday night. I welcome you all to see it!
3.5 out of 5 stars (above average)
Unwelcome is set now to be out in theaters this Friday, March 10th as it’s part of the AMC Thrills & Chills lineup, and on Digital Tuesday, March 14th! Are you looking forward to seeing Unwelcome? What’s your favorite fantasy-horror film? Would you feed fantasy creatures in exchange for a home from a dead relative? Let us know in the comments below and on social media.
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