Combustible Celluloid
With: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Katie Aselton, William Sadler, Cricket Brown, Diogo Morgado, Cary Elwes, Marina Mazepa, Christine Adams, Gisela Chipe
Written by: Evan Spiliotopoulos, based on a book by James Herbert
Directed by: Evan Spiliotopoulos
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violent content, terror and some strong language
Running Time: 99
Date: 04/02/2021

The Unholy (2021)

2 Stars (out of 4)

At the Mary Least

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This atmospheric horror movie starts off well, with plenty of intriguing imagery and history, but it eventually drifts into auto-pilot, falling back on routine scares, lazy dialogue and short cuts.

In the small community of Banfield, Massachusetts, disgraced reporter Gerry Fenn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) arrives to do the kind of story he has been relegated to: a local man's "mutilated" cow. Instead he finds a strange doll, a "Kern doll," with a strange date on it, under a nearby tree. He breaks it so that he can make up a story to go with the cow.

Not long after, hearing-impaired Alice (Cricket Brown) makes her way to the tree and is suddenly healed; she can speak. Moreover, she has seemingly been healed by the Virgin Mary, and she implores others to believe as well. Fenn begins covering this story, and, as more miracles happen, he begins returning to his former glory. But Alice's uncle, Father Hagan (William Sadler), warns that, where miracles are present, the devil cannot be far behind.

The Unholy is set in a small town, heavily faith-based, which means old churches and plenty of statues and candles, stained-glass windows and other symbols, and even a creaky church basement and a musty old book. There are whispered dialogues about the ancient mechanisms of good and evil, and God and the devil. But once the story is underway, and the mysteries are revealed, the mood is undone.

Morgan is terrific at this kind of thing, grizzled and sturdy, but with an undeniable warmth. Yet his character changes rather rapidly from a self-obsessed, hard-drinking wreck to a man who cares deeply about others. (Other characters barely develop at all.) The plot twists also happen too quickly, and mainly on the surface and in dialogue.

The scary stuff is perhaps most disappointing, relegated to jump-scares, buzzing and flickering lights, and a stale old digital monster that twitches and contorts and lurches ahead in fast-motion. All in all, The Unholy should say three "Hail Marys" for the sin of being boring.

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