Written and directed by Jon Wright, co-written by Mark Stay, married couple Maya and Jamie escape their urban nightmare to the tranquillity of rural Ireland only to discover malevolent and murderous goblins lurking in the gnarled, ancient wood at the foot of their new garden. Starring: Hannah John-Kamen, Douglas Booth, Colm Meaney, Kristian Nairn, Chris Walley and Niamh Cusack.
Size doesn’t matter when it comes to creature features, from Gremlins to Godzilla it’s always more about the havoc and violence they cause, than whether they can destroy your house with one foot. Unwelcome’s creepy visitors can certainly cause plenty of carnage, they add a huge burst of violence to the film that’s extremely appreciated. A large majority of the film explores the more stereotypical theme of being terrorised with anti-social behaviour and it doesn’t have a great deal to offer. So when the film then veers off into a strange land of horrific little monsters, it shifts the story to something more akin to fun, b-movies from the 1980s.
That tone is what the film really needed to capitalise on to make the film truly work. It’s a decent horror flick on its own but dipping its toes into that pond of being outlandish, silly and over the top shows you the further potential that it had to offer. Especially as Jon Wright’s direction does hold that kind of atmosphere, it dials up the colour and contrast, creating a reality of its own and not quite everyday. It’s simply taking itself a touch too seriously, relying too much on the relationship between Maya (Hannah John-Kamen) and Jamie (Douglas Booth), when that’s not where the entertaining element lies. If we were talking about a thriller rather than horror, then the choices would make sense but the focus needed to shift and let itself go to realise its potential.
Using its leading couple as the key focus means that a slightly serious tone is being put upon Hannah John-Kamen and Douglas Booth, and sadly it just doesn’t work. The opening itself doesn’t feel entirely believable so then when that tone continues rather than evolving, the cracks in their performances begin to show quite fast. Though it’s to a varying degree, as John-Kamen gets the chance to play around with her character in the latter moments which really perks up the performance. Booth on the other hand feels extremely predictable and not very relatable, which combined with the fact that he really struggles to build an individual charm or personality to Jamie, outside of his anger management issues, there’s not a lot to offer.
The premise of Unwelcome offers a fun, messy and violent adventure but having to walk through so much marriage drama and neighbourly bullying first means it’s simply not satisfying enough. It’s a real shame to see there was an opportunity to throw back to the 1970s and 1980s schools of horror and to throw realism and logic out the window, and the filmmakers didn’t embrace it. When it finally does let go in its final act, it’s too late. If it could have instilled the atmosphere and energy of its ending scenes into the rest of the film, and taken itself a little less seriously, this could have been a great piece of entertainment.