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Review: Full of Overused Tropes, 'The Unholy' Feels Unnecessary

by Kevin Taft
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Apr 2, 2021
'The Unholy'
'The Unholy'  (Source:Sony Pictures Digital)

How many times can a creepy, hooded, demonic figure lunge at the camera in a horror movie? "The Unholy" wants to answer that question for you. (I think it was "five.")

The latest addition to the religious horror genre utilizes some very tired tropes that were retired in the late '00s, but now, whelp, they're back.

"The Unholy" is written and directed by Evan Spillotopoulos, who wrote the live action "Beauty and the Beast" screenplay, along with "The Huntsman: Winter's War," "Hercules," and "Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure." With so many kinds of stories under his belt, it's no surprise he jumped on the horror bandwagon, but it's too bad he didn't offer anything new or remotely scary.

To be fair, there are some interesting elements to "The Unholy," mostly in the form of miracles.

The story begins with a case of mutilated cows and disgraced journalist Gerry Fenn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who goes to investigate. While on the scene he discovers an old, creepy doll that he smashes to bits so as to make the crime scene creepier. He takes pictures and plans on making a mountain out of a molehill to sell a story he is pretty much fabricating. You see, he's not the most honest of journalists and he got in deep doo-doo for making up fantastical stories just to make a buck and become famous.

On his way back from the cow situation, he almost hits a teenage girl (Cricket Brown) who is inexplicably standing in the middle of the road. Of course, she miraculously disappears only to (seconds later) be discovered talking to a tree in a field. When Fenn approaches her, she passes out. He ends up carrying her to the local church, where we find out her name is Alice and that she is the niece of local priest, Father Hagen (William Sadler).

We also find out she is deaf and mute.

Alas, Fenn admits he heard her talking and no one believes her until she has a vision of Mary in front of a tree and starts to speak perfectly. (Later on, she sings!) Soon enough, her uncle's congregation witnesses her interacting with Mary and then revealing she has the power to heal the sick. The news goes viral, and the tree is cordoned off as a possible religious mecca.

However, Fenn is having unnerving dreams about a hooded figure crawling out of a river and lunging at him (a.k.a. the camera.) When he's not dreaming, he keeps getting the sense that something is nearby, but continuously doesn't see the hooded figure that clearly likes to play hide and seek for no particular reason.

Anyway, as Alice finds worldwide fame and continues asking people to pray to Mary and accept her into their souls, Father Hagen feels like where there are miracles, there is the devil. Fenn is on the fence, but starts to become a believer while still hoping that his story will be a huge success.

Soon enough, tragedy strikes - not to mention that hooded figure keeps lunging at the camera for no reason. Eventually, all hell breaks loose. Is Mary really speaking to Alice? Is Alice on the up and up? And what is this cloaked creeper with the long, spindly fingers?

Truth be told, Cricket Brown is really good here, like a young Brit Marling. The idea of a girl being healed overnight and then having the ability to heal others is interesting. Not to mention, the struggle between faith and logic makes for some thought-provoking situations. But we've seen those before, and the addition of the hooded figure doesn't add much.

The film itself is filled with cliché images like statues crying blood and CGI holy images that look more like cartoons. There are three jump scares that work, but they are aggressive and nonsensical; even though you might jump, that doesn't make it clever.

Morgan sleepwalks his way through the movie with the smallest of character arcs. He learns something in the end and has a self-sacrifice moment that is quickly made null and void by the fact that the supernatural truth is revealed, making his sacrifice moot. Sadler and Cary Elwes have thankless roles, and Katie Aselton as Alice's doctor seems to be in the film solely to have conversations with Fenn so the plot can be revealed.

The film looks handsome enough, but the cheesy CGI effects and the silly "monster" make the film feel dated. As a result, "The Unholy" is uninspired and unnecessary.


"The Unholy" opens in theaters April 2.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.


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