The Unholy (2021) Movie Review
Horror / Supernatural
"The Unholy" is a religious horror movie based on James Herbert's 1983 novel, "Shrine." The story follows disgraced journalist, Gerry Fenn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), as he investigates a case of cattle mutilation in a small Massachusetts town. However, Fenn stumbles upon a bigger story when a deaf teenage girl, Alice (Cricket Brown), sees the Virgin Mary in the trunk of a scary-looking tree. Alice performs miracle cures, and her small town turns into a modern-day Lourdes, attracting crowds from far and wide. But is the Virgin Mary who she claims to be? Fenn's stories turn Alice into a viral sensation, but when doubters and skeptics start dying mysteriously, Fenn and Father Hagen (William Sadler) begin to question if Alice's powers are indeed divine.
Fenn is a mess; ten years ago, he fabricated a bunch of stories and was caught, banishing him to his current life of travelling long distances to interview delusional farmers. However, Fenn is intrigued by Alice's visions and believes this could be his ticket back to the big leagues. The media flocks to the town, but Fenn gets the exclusive interview with Alice, not realizing he's walking into a deadly trap.
"The Unholy" explores the themes of what happens when the unholy masks itself as holy, and how doubt weakens faith and can lead to damnation. Alice's miracles cause a frenzy on social media, and she becomes an influencer, inspiring others who don't fit in. This aspect of the movie borders on satire, as we see how influencers can hock curated lifestyles to the masses, who swallow it whole before the disillusionment comes.
The cinematography by Craig Wrobleski adds to the moodiness of the movie, with off-center angles, a wintry palette, and a conception of the town as a scary place. The film's ability to create a sense of fright is impressive, but the lack of depth and follow-up on the themes of Herbert's novel make it a disappointing watch. Despite this, Jeffrey Dean Morgan delivers an excellent performance, filling his underwritten role with shades of disappointment and awareness of his many failings.
The town is a scary place, with scary-looking churches, scary-looking woods, and scary-looking run-down buildings. Alice's fame grows, and her powers become more deadly as the doubters and skeptics start dying mysteriously. Father Hagen calls in the church bigwigs, a bishop (Cary Elwes, with an appropriate Boston accent) and a hot scruffy Monsignor (Diogo Morgado), to investigate the miracles Alice performs.
As Alice's powers grow, so does her sense of tyranny. She believes that doubt weakens faith and leads to damnation, causing her to go after doubters, haters, and skeptics. The emotional payoff with Fenn's friendship with Alice doesn't come, leaving the audience feeling underwhelmed. The movie's inability to hold interest is also evident in the unrealistic portrayal of journalism, distracting viewers from the storyline.
The film's most intriguing aspect is how Alice becomes an influencer, inspiring others who don't fit in. However, the lack of follow-up on this theme leaves viewers feeling dissatisfied. The movie's execution is rote, with bits that feel sketched-in instead of fleshed out. The devil is portrayed as a smooth-talking charmer, with the movie exploring what happens when the unholy disguises itself as holy.
In conclusion, "The Unholy" is a fairly standard religious horror film that attempts to explore the theme of the unholy masking itself as holy. While the film does have some excellent jump-scares and a frightening mood, the execution feels sketched-in rather than filled out, and the lack of follow-up on the glimmers of depth makes for a disappointing watch.
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