Ah, it’s another film with supernatural goblins involved in a horror setting! John Dante, may your legacy carry forward!
Unwelcome may be another test for director Jon Wright after his time with Grabbers (released in 2012) within the monster territory. Still, this time, it’s another representation of the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none.” The horror picture doesn’t appear to know what direction it wants to head until the final act, where it cranks it up with an uproarious and unshackled direction. The recent distribution of Elizabeth Banks’ Cocaine Bear yielded a similar reaction, even with a neat premise attached.
The feature starts with a beautiful opening, where Maya (Hannah-John Kamen) announces to her spouse Jamie (Douglas Booth) that she’s pregnant and both wish to celebrate. However, a couple of hoodlums break into the apartment and attack both before retreating, leaving the couple feeling vulnerable. To counter their susceptible state, the couple takes the opportunity to move into Jamie’s late great-aunt’s house in Ireland to start fresh. There, they are warned that the gates behind their house require them to feed liver to the little creatures residing there, or a standing tradition will become broken.
Yeah, you guessed it: leprechaun-esque goblins are in the backyard. However, Wright doesn’t test the waters with them much or binge on an unsettling tension to instigate audiences’ fears. He attempts to mitigate this by introducing the abusive, unruly Whelan family, who helped the couple settle into their residence. The over-assertiveness of Daddy Whelan (Colm Meaney) and disruptive siblings (Chris Walley and Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) mimic the acting and direction undertaken in Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, a film that controversially stretched into the themes of heavy violence and subtle nods to the disasters of the Vietnam War. It’s a heavy inspiration, especially when Wright dabbles into Gremlins and Ghoulies for the sprites we’re here to see. The consequence of doing so is allowing the movie to not settle on one objective when it has several to address; a fierce, pregnant mother doesn’t mesh with an abrasive family, and then goblins lurking in the background because of the Irish lore.
The uneven direction hurts the feature’s momentum as it desperately claws for its haphazard third act, where the grueling action that unfolds almost justifies its existence. If one cuts out too early, they’ll reasonably believe the early shortcomings sealed Unwelcome‘s fate. Witnessing it in its entirety may quell one’s frustrations. Perhaps that does ironically lead to another nitpick in its runtime of 104 minutes, when trimming off at least fifteen could’ve made it more cohesive.
Unwelcome is a sprawling mess of a motion picture with bulky odes towards other classics, even if it does feel welcoming for its opening moments and final act.