Cricket Brown

The Unholy

19/05/21

It’s a red letter day for B&B. We’re back in a genuine cinema for the first time since September 2020!

Naturally, we’re excited for the event and, it must be said, a little apprehensive too. We’re still intent on taking all necessary safety precautions. But the main problem is one we haven’t really anticipated: there isn’t a great deal of quality content to choose from. Having sat grimly through Peter Rabbit back in the day, we’re in no great hurry to watch its sequel. Judas and the Black Messiah is very good, but we’ve already seen that online. And Mortal Kombat? Hmm, thanks, but no thanks.

In the end we decide on The Unholy. Based on a novel by the late James Herbert and produced by the ever dependable Sam Raimi, this does at least seem to offer the kind of frissons that a big screen will help to amplify – and, for the most part, we’re pleased with our choice.

Down-on-his luck journalist Gerry Fenn (a gloriously rumpled Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is out chasing stories for the two-bit publication he currently works for. Back in the day, Gerry was a big name in journalism, but was caught fabricating stories and publicly disgraced. Nowadays, he’s reduced to chasing a rumour about a cow with some alleged satanic graffiti on its rump. However, his luck seems to change dramatically when he stumbles across what might just be the scoop of his career.

In the remote town of Banfield, a teenage girl called Alice (Cricket Brown), mute since birth, has suddenly discovered the power of speech after experiencing a vision featuring a woman called ‘Mary.’ A miracle? Alice’s guardian is Father Hagen (William Sadler), who is somewhat sceptical about the whole thing, but it isn’t long before Alice is summoning others in the local community to stand in front of an ancient tree near her uncle’s church to pledge their allegiance to this ancient spirit. Gerry milks the opportunity and forms a close bond with Alice, a girl who every newspaper in America wants to interview… and then the Catholic church gets involved in the form of Bishop Gyles (Cary Elwes) and Monsignor Delgarde (Diogo Morgado). Suddenly, Gerry is back in demand.

But of course, as is usually the way with these theological horrors, Mary isn’t the benign creature she initially appears to be (a fact that doesn’t come as a great surprise to viewers as we’ve already been tipped off in a grisly pre-credits sequence). It transpires that she is pretty quick to mangle anyone who stands in her way and what she wants for starters is the adoration of the entire community of Banfield.

The Unholy, written and directed by Evan Spiliotopoulis, is decently handled, wielding nicely-timed jump-scares and featuring a delightfully conceived supernatural adversary, with a distinctive limb-twisting method of moving about. There’s some dark humour in the mix too, with local businesses getting in on the act offering everything from ‘We Follow Mary’ T-shirts to bottles of ‘Miracle Girl’s Tears.’

My only real issue with the film is that the ending attempts to have its theological cake and eat it. I’d respect it more if it stuck to its guns and went a little bleaker.

But hey, the main thing here is that cinemas are open again! Hurray!

Returning viewers should note that, at present, the trailers and adverts are taking up rather less time than we’re used to, so please ensure you get to your chosen showing for the advertised time, or risk missing the film’s opening stretches.

You’re welcome.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney