Movie Review: 'Unwelcome' is a Bizarre But Entertaining Folk Horror Flick
Straw Dogs crossed with Goblins? Yeah, that's the premise of Unwelcome.
Directed by Jon Wright
Written by Mark Stay
Starring Hannah John-Kamen, Douglas Booth, Colm Meaney
Release Date March 10th, 2023, Digital Release March 14th, 2023
Published March 7th, 2023
Unwelcome is the bizarre combination of Straw Dogs meets Goblins that you did not know you needed in your life. This bizarre 'folk horror' film from Ireland is terrifically fun and effective piece of horror movie storytelling. There are creatures in Unwelcome but the real horror at play is other people. The outside world seems to have it out for a pair of young lovers with a new baby on the way. The anxiety of starting a new family, beginning a new life, and finding a safe place to raise a child become externalized in the form of bitter weirdos with a penchant for destroying the sanctity of family in Unwelcome.
Unwelcome kicks off on a frightening note. In an epilogue, we meet our lovely protagonists. Maya (Hannah John-Kamen) and Jamie (Douglas Booth), have been struggling for some time to get pregnant. There is a distinct anxiety over Maya's latest pregnancy test with Jamie trying to be ambivalent but his sadness but his disappointment and nerves coming through in his manner, especially when he's out of sight of Maya. Each wants to let the other know that they will be okay if they can't have a child but it's clearly an attempt at comforting each other. When the pregnancy test comes back positive, the relief and catharsis is quite evident.
Sadly, this is when the plot intervenes to move things along. While Maya calls her mother, Jamie leaves to go to a convenience store for some champagne. On his way, he's accosted by some bullies who seem to have nothing better to do than harass him. He manages to get away from them and avoid an encounter but when he insults their leader, he finds them following him back to his apartment. A home invasion commences and both Jamie and Maya are assaulted with pleas about Maya's newfound pregnancy ignored. Maya gets kicked in the gut and the terror of this scene takes hold just as we fade to credits.
The opening of Unwelcome is the inciting incident to get Jamie and Maya out of the urban city and out to the country. Quite conveniently, Jamie's loving Aunt has just passed away and left him a lovely, bucolic cottage in the Irish countryside. It's seemingly the perfect spot to raise a child and since Maya's pregnancy miraculously survived their physical assault, the cottage could not be more ideal. However, Auntie had a secret that only her closest friend, a local innkeeper knew of. In Auntie's backyard is a portal to another dimension. There, a group of Goblin-like beings called Redcaps live.
Auntie has a deal with the Redcaps. She would leave them various tasty raw meats at the portal. In exchange, the Redcaps stayed in their little forest pocket universe. Naturally, Maya and Jamie don't buy the idea of murderous goblin creatures and fail to feed the Redcaps on their first night at the cottage. This leads to the death of a local drunk who had insulted the newly arrived couple, though whether it was a crime of revenge or just a desire to feed on flesh is unclear. You might assume from here that the plot of Unwelcome centers on a conflict between the young couple and the Redcaps and you would be wrong.
Instead, the couple has hired a group of local outsiders to do repairs on their home. Colm Meaney is the leader of this family of gig workers, a man who insists on being called 'Daddy.' Daddy has two obnoxious kids, Killian (Chris Walley) and Niamh (Niahm Cusack), and one big, dumb oaf, Eoin (Kristian Nairn), and they are all bad news. The work they do is shoddy, when they do any work at all, and Eoin's work seems to be creepily watching Maya at any chance he gets. None of these people are good, even the seemingly good-hearted oaf. The badness of these baddies will eventually unite Maya and the Redcaps in unexpected and 'Unwelcome,' (Ha!) fashion.
Unwelcome is a tad bit obnoxious. The bad guys are cartoonishly bad while the 'Redcaps' are cartoonish little monsters. Caught in the middle are a normcore couple who could not be more blandly likable. These two characters at the center of two completely different plots is actually kind of clever. Since Maya and Jamie are cyphers, ratcheting up the crazy around them forces both to up their game. Neither of our main couple actors goes particularly big to match the insanity around them, but each pushes past the limits of their modestly drawn characters enough to make things interesting.
Our main couple exists so that director Jon Wright and writer Mark Stay can use the medium of horror to externalize fears about the modern world. It's not a particularly deep exploration of these ideas but it's an attempt. Essentially, the baddies at the start of the movie and Colm Meaney's family of baddies at the end, along with the Redcaps, are all examples of fears all new parents have about being able to keep a baby safe in the world. The internal battles that parents fight against their fear and anxiety about the safety and security of their child take on a violent, gross, and disturbing external form so that they can be vanquished.
The vanquishing comes with compromises and those compromises are not easy, they are reflective of the kinds sacrifices that new parents make in order to be parents. Those sacrifices just happen to be externalized as tiny Goblin-like creatures with a penchant for blood and meat. Unwelcome delivers the gore and the creepy alongside a genuine plot about the anxieties of new parenthood. It's not perfect, it's tad low rent, but everything about the intent behind Unwelcome feels genuine and the dedication to horror movie tropes makes sure that genre fans are well served regardless of any deeper meanings.
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About the Creator
Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast. I am a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.
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