Dir. Jon Wright (2022)
A young married couple escape from the horror of the inner city to rural Ireland, where they discover that there is more to fear than just people.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
To be honest, after watching so many British horror films over the last few years, I'm starting to regret my desires to visit that part of Europe. Yeah, sure, there are tons of horror movies that take place in the good old USofA, but the UK is an incredibly small place in comparison and there seems to always be some shit going down. If I wanted to avoid a chainsaw massacre, I can just stay away from Texas, but is there any place in England, Ireland, or Scotland where there doesn't seem to be some awful creature of terrible human element ready to wreck my shit? Nevertheless, regardless of the evil present at the heart of whatever movie you happen to be watching, the gorgeous pastoral scenery is all on full display, providing an incredibly effective tourism ad for all those who are able to overlook horror movie villains. Unwelcome, the new film coming to Shudder this month, is yet another film that showcases the beautiful countryside of my family's native home of Ireland while also delving deep into the mythical creatures of Irish folklore.
Young couple Jamie (Douglas Booth, The Dirt) and Maya (Hannah John-Kamen, Ant Man and the Wasp) discover that they're pregnant, but Jamie's trip to the local convenience store in order to buy some prosecco to celebrate is interrupted by local goons, who follow him home and attack both Jamie and his wife. Thankfully, they shortly thereafter learn that Jamie's family has a fixer-upper in the Irish countryside to which they can escape the horror of urban living, but no sooner than they arrive are they told about redcap goblins that are said to haunt the front garden (that means front yard to those who don't speak the King's English). In a surprisingly adept display of practical effects and human actors, director Jon Wright delivers some awesome creatures, funny folky scares, and enough gnarly gore to keep the horror faithful happy.
As with most folk horror films, the locals are a bit off, with various people giving ominous warnings of the dangers of the countryside and even a contractor who insists that Maya calls him "Daddy." Also like other folk horrors, Unwelcome moves along at a snail's pace at times, with no real action happening (outside of the assault at the beginning of the film) until there's less than an hour left in the film. Rather than immediately concentrate on the baddies, Wright focuses instead on a tour of the beautiful countryside and the dark and mysterious woods surrounding the rural property that Jamie and Maya inherit. There's also considerable time devoted to providing evidence that many of the locals are shitty and undereducated brutes who are just as bad as what they left. While this often works for folk horror and helps to put the audience into a world that is perhaps not their own, Unwelcome never quite manages to unnerve its audience and instead leaves us wondering when they'll finally get to see the imps they were promised.
The actors at the center of the film, however, do a fine job, most notably Hannah John-Kamen. Her performance is excellent, easily carrying the film despite its relative lack of action for a lot of the film's runtime. Character actor Colm Meaney, who has made appearances in everything from Star Trek to Con Air, is the primary villain of the film, who happens to be even scarier than the gnomes hiding in the woods. Also present is Hodor himself, Kristian Nairn, who portrays a mentally deficient giant who is less kind than he initially appears and is our first example of how brutal the redcaps' vengeance can be. Most of the horror within, however, is of the human element, a brutal reminder that people are nasty no matter where you are. It's difficult to have too much of an issue with this because Wright handles the horror pretty effectively, but it's not the nasty locals that we're here for after all, and once the garden goblins make their way onto the scene things get pretty rad.
Thankfully, the lack of scares in the film don't do too much harm to its impact. Wright goes for funny as often as scary, and occasionally succeeds pretty well. The actors all do a decent job, the creatures are pretty awesome, and the plot, which varies between Straw Dogs and Labyrinth, is enough to make the film a clever entry into the folk horror genre. Unwelcome won't rank anywhere near the top of Shudder's considerable contribution to horror, but it's still an interesting little monster movie with some horrifying caricatures of rural townsfolk. Check it out.
Who this movie is for: Folk horror lovers, British horror fans,
Bottom line: Unwelcome is interesting, well-acted, and with some pretty cool practical effects. It's far from the best monster movie, especially due to its relatively short screentime for the creatures at the heart of the story, but it's fun, funny at times, and with some surprisingly excellent gore in a story that is not particularly focused on blood and mayhem. If you're looking for a folk horror with some beautiful scenery and less-than-beautiful portrayals of humanity, give this one a shot.