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Unwelcome (2022) – Movie Review

May 11, 2023

Quick thoughts – Grade – C+ – Directed by Jon Wright (Grabbers) and starring Hannah John-Kamen, Douglas Booth, Colm Meaney, and many murderous goblins, Unwelcome is an occasionally fun creature feature that feels too disjointed to fully recommend. 

Fueled by his love of Grimm tales, and fantastical elements, director Jon Wright set about creating an adult fairy tale that focuses on a young couple Maya (Hannah John-Kamen) and Jamie (Douglas Booth) moving to rural Ireland after Jamie’s great-aunt leaves them an idyllic property, which on any other occasion might be considered a forever home. The move comes at a perfect time as Maya is pregnant and both she and Jamie are dealing with the aftermath of a violent home invasion that left them wanting to be anywhere but their London apartment. Since it’s a creature feature called Unwelcome, things quickly go south for the couple as they are forced to battle bullish builders and gleefully violent goblins called Redcaps who dip their hats in the blood of their victims .After a very shaky start, everything leads to a mostly satisfying conclusion that involves cheeky goblins, eyeball gouges, and more cheeky goblins.

Wright wanted to create an experience  that didn’t solely focus on blood explosions and intestines pouring out of stomachs (there is some of that in this movie though), so he thought back to his youth and remembered how his grandfather believed in fairies, and when he learned about the Redcap goblins, a group of menacing maniacs who delight in chaos and have zero remorse when they stab their victims to death with their tiny knives. From there, he wrote a Gremlins meets Straw Dogs story about a “very urban, liberal couple getting back in touch with their primal, animal selves.” It’s a good idea, and sounds nice on paper, but in Wright’s quest to create an otherworldly magical vibe in the Irish countryside, he instead created a movie that feels artificial because of the reliance on a soundstage shoot and a house that never feels real. Part of this is because of Covid which most likely forced the crew to build sets inside soundstages to keep down on travel and not be hindered by the necessary precautions that come with shooting on location. 

It’s neat that production designer John Beard built double-height sets which allowed real actors (dressed as goblins) to enter the house and walk into actual rooms. But, the house and lighting choices never feel authentically atmospheric and it took me out of the movie because it felt so inauthentic. I know the goal was to create a dreamy atmosphere, but in their quest to look like Legend, they made everything look too much like a movie lit by very powerful lights. 

The biggest problem with Unwelcome are the tonal shifts which creates several movies that don’t quite gel. The first hour is a suspense thriller that leans more heavily on the villainy of the Whelan family played by Colm Meaney, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, Kristian Nairn, and Chris Walley. The Whelan’s are a family of builders who rely on bully tactics and general BS as they fix up Maya and Jamie’s home (and also steal their delicious snacks). The movie becomes more interesting when the Redcaps spring into action because they inject some lunacy into the proceedings and their anarchic behavior feels like a breath of fresh air. It’s fun watching them deliver a plastic bag that is home to a severed head, and it’s a delight watching their Gremlins-esque behavior unfold as they battle the Whelans, Jamie and Maya. 

In the Blu-ray extras, Wright talks about how he loves recent horror movies like Get Out, Hereditary and It Follows. The difference between Unwelcome and these films is that Unwelcome doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be and that hurts the final product. Wright’s previous film Grabbers works beautifully because it’s about people getting drunk so they can battle deadly aliens. It’s a simple premise and that allows the characters to shine. In Unwelcome the characters are dealing with pregnancy, PTSD, bullying, male expectations, fairy tales, paranoia, and deadly goblins. It’s a lot, and because of that it never really works as a whole.

Final thoughts – I love the Redcaps, and think there’s a lot to like about Unwelcome. But, it doesn’t totally work despite Wright’s best intentions to create a film driven by characters and feelings. 

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 13, 2023 9:09 am

    Great review. Sounds like one where it tries to be all instead of being one solid plot.

    • May 13, 2023 9:13 am

      Thanks! It really tries to jam in too many themes. BUT, I like the goblins.

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