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THE UNHOLY (2021)
The Unholy is one of the first major horror films to hit theaters in 2021, which in a normal year is usually not a great sign. Even though it's now April, The Unholy sure does feel like it was destined for that very ill-fated January release.
In his directorial debut, Evan Spiliotopoulos delivers a feeble horror film with a solid build that leads to an unsatisfying conclusion. The film is fueled with needless jumpscares that require little creativity from behind the lens. There are a few scenes within the exterior of a local motel that provide some creepy atmosphere, however the majority of the picture lacks this aesthetic. The film is overwhelmingly stale from all perspectives, and this is unfortunate to say about a first time director.
Doubling up for The Unholy, Evan Spiliotopoulos is also credited as the film’s scribe. When a director takes on his own screenplay, it can lead to phenomenal things because they should know better than anyone what should be translated to the screen. However, that doesn’t happen to be the case here, with Spiliotopoulos handling the film with little finesse, creating an overly dull experience.
The film follows Gerry Fenn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a corrupt reporter looking to build his career back with the sudden appearance of a miracle in a local town; this miracle being Alice (Cricket Brown), a hearing impaired young woman regaining her hearing and miraculously knowing how to speak, all accomplished by the “angelic” Mary. As people start to gain faith in the mysterious Mary, things quickly begin to unravel for Gerry as he stumbles upon more than he bargained for with his story.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
What makes matters worse for The Unholy is that the cast actually does a respectable job with what they're working with - it's just the biggest issue is what they're working with. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is our lead, and while I did truly enjoy his performance, it's the character of Gerry that felt incomplete. This goes for almost the entire roster of characters, as there’s a lack of interconnectivity between the characters and the lack of strong characterization to make the audience care if they run the chances of being a victim of Mary. There's not a single character you can gravitate towards for comfort, and there's just not enough going on within this film to help persuade you to root against the evil.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
At the heart of the film is the spirit of Mary, and when she appears whether in a fictitious light or as she truly is, her character design lacks any originality nor horrifying contributions. There isn’t anything here that leaves me terrified of what is lurking outside my window or makes me second guess my faith; it’s unremarkable on all fronts.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Composer Joseph Bishara has crafted such an ordinary composition with The Unholy. Within the film you'll find the usual horror tropes when it comes to the sound design - loud aminous noises fill the screen at all times. Don't expect anything special, as Bishara fails to capture anything of note with his score.
With Sam Raimi attached as producer, I wanted to go in with a positive mindset, but I've been burned by the horror master many times before with the likes of Poltergeist (2015) and The Grudge (2020) at the top of the list. The Unholy joins the growing list as it provides no scares and instead a slow, uneventful story from beginning to end.