The Unholy provides occult counter-programming for the religious horror devoted in time for Easter.
Almost a decade after being sucked into a dybbuk haunting in The Possession, Jeffrey Dean Morgan reunites with Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures for a story that tills the soil of Massachusetts for its history of charred witches and, this time around, draws on Catholic demonology instead of Jewish folklore.
The Unholy Production Designer
The film has an intriguing introduction, but it grows increasingly overblown and corny from there. It also relies heavily on recycled plot devices that have been done better elsewhere, from Ringu to the Conjuring Universe.
This is an average effort that relies more on production values than innovation, much like the most of Ghost House’s work since Raimi himself directed the wickedly amusing Drag Me to Hell in 2009.
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(Don’t Breathe, a tense 2016 film about a house invasion, was the main exception.) The Unholy is Evan Spiliotopoulos’s first foray into the writer-director role, and while it’s enjoyable enough, it doesn’t exactly set the world on fire.
Spiliotopoulos’s lengthy list of screenwriting credits is dominated by extended Disney properties. This initial change is already a step in the right direction.
The prologue of this film, which is based on the 1983 novel Shrine by English horror writer James Herbert, depicts the burning alive of a young woman in 1845 as seen through the eyes of a mask worn by the victim. Quick cut to her body dangling from a giant oak tree in a grassy field.
Gerry Fenn (Morgan) is a cynical photo-reporter for the tabloids in modern-day Boston who focuses on sensational supernatural items. Disgraced journalist pursues a fake report of possible Satanism in the tranquil farming village of Banfield because he is a fame whore with a history of creating tales.
When he’s about to give up and decide the journey was a waste of time, he discovers a “kern baby” at the foot of the same tree from the prologue. When Gerry finds out that the dolls were used as talismans to ward off evil, he does what any careless jerk would do and breaks one open in an effort to create a more exciting story.
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Father Hagan (William Sadler), the priest at the tiny white New England church that overlooks the field, is worried about the panic among his congregation. When Alice, however, convinces a kid with muscular dystrophy to forgo his wheelchair and walk, rumours quickly spread that the oak tree is the location of miracles.
- Film studios: Screen Gems, Ghost House Pictures
- Distribution: Sony
- Cast: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Katie Aselton, William Sadler, Cricket Brown, Diogo Morgado, Cary Elwes, Marina Mazepa, and Christine Adams.
- Screenplay and direction by: Evan Spiliotopoulos, adapted from James Herbert’s Shrine.
- Among the producers: are Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Evan Spiliotopoulos. Produced by Andrea Ajemian and Romel Adam
- Cinematographer: Craig Wrobleski
- Production designer: Felicity Abbott
- Costumes designer: Jennifer Lynn Tremblay
- Arrangements and compositions by: Joseph Bishara
- Editing Team: The Jake York
- Casting: Nancy Nayor
- Length: 99 minutes; PG-13 rating