Review: The Unholy (2021)

The Unholy (2021)

Directed by: Evan Spiliotopoulos | 100 minutes | horror | Actors: Cricket Brown, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, William Sadler, Katie Aselton, Cary Elwes, Diogo Morgado, Bates Wilder, Marina Mazepa, Christine Adams, Dustin Tucker, Gisela Chipe, Danny Corbo, Sonny Corbo, Michael Strauss

Gerry Fenn was once a successful and celebrated journalist. Its success ended abruptly when it was revealed that many of his stories were fabricated. He now spends his days ‘on the road’ as a poorly paid and desperate pulp journalist with a penchant for the bottle. He travels to an obscure Massachusetts hamlet to make up a story about a cow mutilated by Satanists for an apple and an egg. The truth, however, is only half as exciting: the Metallica logo on the rear of the otherwise completely normal and healthy cow is the work of a bunch of bored youngsters and has nothing to do with bloodthirsty devil worshipers.

Contrary to his expectations, the cynical and cunning Gerry stumbles upon an event where he may be able to capitalize on journalism. The deaf-mute teenage girl Alice can suddenly speak and hear again after she says she has been visited by the Virgin Mary. When the girl performs several more miraculous cures, the once sleepy town of Banfield becomes a magnet for the media and hordes of devout believers. However, the entity responsible for the miracles has anything but divine origins…

‘The Unholy’ is based on the 1983 book ‘Shrine’ written by James Herbert. The main question in that work: what happens when evil tries to pretend to be the holy? And why do people always have a tendency to put false prophets on a pedestal and then shower those icons with scorn and hatred if they don’t live up to our expectations? The film also touches on these issues superficially, but actually does not do enough with them.

As a standard horror film, ‘The Unholy’ is partly successful. The usual ingredients for a supernatural horror recipe – think doom-radiating churches, dark woods where things are not looking good, dilapidated buildings, ominous dreams and a nasty doll – are there, while the film also has some nice scares in store for the viewer. Across the board, however, director Evan Spiliotopoulos relies too much on routine and rarely distinguishes the film from your average paranormal horror film.

It is mainly Jeffrey Dean Morgan who wears ‘The Unholy’ and takes the film to a reasonable level. Although he regularly plays quite unsympathetic characters (think Negan from “The Walking Dead” or the Comedian from the comic epic ‘Watchmen’), Morgan exudes charisma from every pore of his body. Here too he does a good job, despite the fact that the script writers could have given his character a bit more body and depth. Also William Sadler, who plays the role of the righteous village priest who first realizes that the miracles that take place in his community have no heavenly origin, and Cricket Brown rise above mediocrity. And then, of course, there’s the supernatural entity that puts people under the spell of the principle of miraculous healing. This she-wolf in sheep’s clothing is a decent CGI creation, but looks a lot like a less scary version of the ghoulish tooth fairy from ‘Darkness Falls’.

The end result is a reasonable, but certainly not special horror film. ‘The Unholy’ is rarely boring, but it also adds little to the crowded universe of the hair-raising ghost stories.

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