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Review: The Unholy (2021)

The Unholy (2021)

Directed by: Evan Spiliotopoulos

Premise: A disgraced journalist (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) stumbles upon an apparent miracle as a mute teenage girl (Cricket Brown) gains the ability to speak and communicates messages allegedly from the Virgin Mary. But something sinister may be at work.

What Works: The Unholy is generally well crafted. The film has several impressive images and sequences, especially the opening (which homages Mario Bava’s Black Sunday) and the fiery conclusion. But what is especially interesting about The Unholy is the question implicit in its premise: how would a believer identify a miracle as the work of good rather than evil forces? That conceit plays out intelligently throughout the film. Virtually everyone in The Unholy wants to believe that they are witnessing an act of God and that willingness to believe enables something evil. The way the film dramatizes faith and belief is quite smart. Beyond the comfort of faith, the story also puts more concrete matters at stake. People have had their aliments cured but if the demonic truth is exposed and the miracle is rejected, the cures will be nullified. It’s an effective metaphor of the way truth has a cost.

What Doesn’t: The Unholy follows some of the obnoxious trends in recent supernatural horror pictures. The filmmakers don’t trust the material or the audience and insert jump scares spiked with audio stingers and digital visual effects. It cheapens the film and reveals too much too soon. It’s easy to imagine a much better version of The Unholy that allows the horror to creep in more gradually. The supporting cast includes Cary Elwes as a bishop; Elwes’ accent is all over the place, at times sounding Bostonian and at other times sounding Irish. The filmmakers intend the bishop as a secondary villain but this isn’t done very well.

DVD extras: None.

Bottom Line: The Unholy is an acceptable film but it’s frustrating because it had the potential to be great. Despite its shortcomings, this is still a spooky piece of supernatural horror that is more thoughtful about its religious imagery than many similar films.

Episode: #874 (October 24, 2021)