Saturday, October 2, 2021

The Unholy (2021)

 * The Unholy (2021)

* spoilers *

Alice, a young girl who is both deaf and mute, can miraculously hear and speak, in addition to having visions of Mary. Disgraced journalist Gerry Fen stumbles onto the case and turns out to be the only one Alice will speak with. He sees this as an opportunity to regain his former glory while she just wants to foster belief in Mary. Many flock to Alice for miraculous healing but only after promising to believe in and pledging themselves Mary. Her following grows incredibly large before anyone starts to question the identity of Mary.

The Unholy has an interesting concept and good actors, but falls flat in the creature and its design. I'm not a usual fan of religious horror, but this hits my wheelhouse as an ex-Catholic critical of the church. It's assumed that Mary is the Virgin Mary, but she definitely is not. Her backstory as a witch rightfully burned by the church isn't my favorite, but the wider implications of her being evil made me enjoy this film way more than I expected. The Catholic Church enjoys the great amount of attention and money that comes with Mary and ignore anything that stands in their way. Seems about right. Cary Elwes plays the Catholic authority figure, Bishop Gyles, who at first seems pious and gentle only to be exposed as an opportunistic charlatan. 

Jeffrey Dean Morgan is excellent at being a charming, sympathetic character despite any flaws and Gerry Fen is no different. At the start, Gerry is an alcoholic clamoring for any fragment of a story to sell no matter how small to the least credible magazine ever. He unwittingly creates this story by destroying an old doll he finds in a field. Once he meets Alice, he takes an interest in her and prioritizes Alice's needs over his own greed and drive to return to his rightful place in his career. To foil Bishop Gyles, he goes from someone willing to do anything to earn some money to someone willing to tank their newfound fame to save an innocent girl and the world.

Where The Unholy stumbles is with Mary herself. Her backstory aside, she's a CGI creature that isn't very detailed and just looks bug-eyed and strange. Every scare involving her fell flat and since she's the main antagonist, the horror elements are lacking. I don't understand why she couldn't have been portrayed by an actual person with makeup or practical effects or CGI enhancements. 

The Unholy is a surprisingly decent religious horror movie that doesn't view the church or its acolytes as heroes or saviors. Normal people doing the right thing are the heroes. I would love more in the subgenre along this vein. If it were a drama, it would have been more memorable, but the horror elements are forgettable and not scary outside of some cheap jumpscares. It's worth a watch, but I wouldn't buy it. 

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

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