The Unholy (2021)

*. It’s such a generic title I felt sure there must be a dozen movies with the same name. But a quick search only turned up a couple of others (both horror films). Still, the title can be taken as a warning. There’s not going to be anything new going on here.
*. As an aside, it’s based on the James Herbert novel Shrine. I think they should have stuck with that.
*. A woman is hanged as a witch (or more properly a demon) in nineteenth-century Massachusetts, after first receiving the Black Sunday treatment (a mask nailed to her face) and having her soul trapped in an doll bound with itty-bitty chains. The doll business struck me as being a very inadequate way to deal with a demon, and sure enough 175 years later a journalist (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) visiting the spot — a town named Banfield that a librarian later tells us was originally Banefield — breaks the doll open, releasing the spirit.
*. The witch/demon is named Mary, which allows it to present itself as being the spirit of the Virgin Mary because nobody asks for her last name! Anyway, she appears to a deaf and mute descendant named Alice (Cricket Brown) who can suddenly hear and speak and even sing hymns. It’s a miracle! And through Alice the demon can also heal others, as long as they put their faith in “Mary.” Get the dirty trick there?
*. The DVD box promises us that “As people flock to witness her [Alice’s] miracles, horrific events unfold.” My guess is that most people will be coming to a movie like this for those “horrific events.” They will likely feel cheated, as they aimed for a PG-13 rating which means no gore. Indeed, there isn’t even much of a body count.

*. You should know what to expect, and it’s what writer-director-producer Evan Spiliotopoulos delivers. There are overhead car shots. Whisperings on the soundtrack. Bad phone connections. Flickering neon lights. A statue of the Virgin that cries tears of blood. And a CGI demon that likes to jump out at people and say “Boo!” Cary Elwes tries out a Boston Irish accent and it’s quite funny. As long, I suppose, as you’re not from Boston. I hope he doesn’t do that again. Morgan fares better as a burnt-out journo (we’re told that God chose a sinner to better fulfill his mysterious purpose) but I kept wondering why he didn’t just grab his baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire and kick some demon ass. Is it because he’s wearing glasses? I mean Morgan, not the demon. Negan wouldn’t have taken any of this shit.
*. I think a revival tent is the last place I’d want to be in if a fire broke out. And yet this one doesn’t burn. Those are some strange flames. They’re CGI, sure, but CGI flames don’t burn tents?
*. The oak tree was described as an “ancient oak” in 1845, and yet it’s still there, even though it’s clearly dead. Why?
*. Dismissed by critics, The Unholy actually had decent box office (or whatever “box office” meant during lockdown). Which makes me wonder how badly you have to mess up a movie like this to not make money. I’d like to recommend it to anyone interested in some PG-rated religious horror, but to be honest it’s just not very interesting, and it certainly isn’t scary.
*. I’m also not sure how a Catholic is supposed to take any of this. Is it mocking the faith, or just using religion as a kitschy backdrop for the usual raising-the-devil shenanigans before plumping for the value of doubt and making the atheist the hero? As I’ve had occasion to point out many times before, the curious thing about today’s supernatural/religious horror is that forces of evil are seen as real while God is either helpless or MIA. As I said in my notes on Paranormal Activity, “it seems the devil is still with us but God left the building a while ago.”
*. I mean, the priests here are disposed of pretty quickly. I mentioned the low body count. It’s three. All three are priests. It’s hard not to think there was some sort of message in that.
*. Anyway, I pondered all this for a moment or two and then gave up. Not a terrible movie, but not one worth bothering with either.

9 thoughts on “The Unholy (2021)

  1. Bookstooge

    I concur 100% with your assessment about the current use of religion in horror movies, ie, evil is real but God isn’t.
    Always made me wonder how they arrived at that conclusion.

    Reply
    1. Alex Good

      Because the world has gone to hell! At least that’s how Cary Elwes explains it.

      It doesn’t make sense to me either. It’s not just that evil is real, but that there are real devils and demons, very much in a traditional sense, but there’s no God or angels. The devils just sort of do what they want and it takes human ingenuity to overcome them because they’re not getting any help from above. This movie ends up with some silly suggestion that the boozy journo was God’s chosen tool for defeating the demon, but that God didn’t do anything to help three of his priests, who are killed off really easily. Probably too much to ask for theological coherence though.

      Reply
      1. Bookstooge

        You think it’s gone to hell now? You just wait πŸ˜‰

        I don’t even mind when horror stuff stomps all over Christianity, or Judaism really (as there’s nary a mention of Christ as the Godhead, just a generic “God”) but it really has to be consistent for me to not stomp all over it. I obviously take the subject pretty seriously πŸ˜€

        I will say, it is quite consistent for servants of God to be killed. But that’s almost a whole post’s worth of stuff, so I’ll forebear.

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