by Hope Madden
There’s never a bad time for an Irish horror movie, but there are better times for them. Like March.
Hey! It’s March! Well, I guess it’s lucky that Grabbers director Jon Wright is back with the new tale of bloodthirsty little people, Unwelcome. Wright’s yarn follows Londoners Maya (Hannah John-Kamen, Ant-Man and the Wasp) and Jamie (Douglas Booth, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). We meet as the two 1) confirm they are pregnant, and 2) barely survive a brutal break in.
Act 1 is grim, humorless and traumatizing, capitalizing on the very Brit-horror anxiety around roving young thugs and the pointless violence they will do. Act 2 ushers us into the lush, quaint Irish countryside where Jamie and Maya relocate, thanks to a timely inheritance. Jamie’s aunt passed on more than a cottage, though. There are rules.
But Maya doesn’t take the rules very seriously. And besides, she’s due any minute, there’s a hole in her roof, the clan of handymen they hired to fix it is somewhat terrifying, and she and Jamie are still suffering from the trauma of the break in back in London. So, yes, she forgot to leave the raw meat out on the back fence for the “red caps” roaming the forest beyond.
What could go wrong?
Let’s start with what goes right. Wright’s pivot to very Irish horror, with its humor, color and creatures of old creates a fascinating shift from the gritty British tone. The Whelan family (Colm Meaney, Kristian Nairn, Chris Walley and Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), hired to patch and repair the cottage, deliver uncomfortable tension from their introduction. Set design is gorgeous and the creatures are pretty cool.
Unfortunately, that’s not enough. Maya and Jamie make ridiculous decisions, many of them running counter to the characters’ own (sometimes verbalized) natures. The film doesn’t lean into humor nearly enough, and the conclusion leaves much to be desired.
Irish horror so often incorporates folktales of malevolent tricksters. You Are Not My Mother (2021), The Hallow (2015), and The Hole in the Ground (2019) all tread similarly magical ground and all do a better job of it. Unwelcome can’t begin to stand up to comparisons to Wright’s creature feature Grabbers –the best Irish horror film you could hope for.
It’s not without its charm. Meaney and his crew turn in excellent performances and generate some honest laughs. But the film itself is a mess.