Thursday 22 June 2023

Horror Film Review: Unwelcome (2022) ★★★★☆ - A Shudder Exclusive

Redcaps are perhaps the most horrible of the unseelie creatures, so-called because they like to soak their caps in the blood of their many unfortunate victims. Of all the dark fae, they are my favourite: petty to the hilt and single-minded in their pursuit of mayhem, chaos and destruction. I've always wondered why so few filmmakers focus on the dark fae and was thrilled to see redcaps given the feature treatment in Jon Wright's folk horror Unwelcome.

Steeped in violence from the very first scene, Unwelcome opens with a brutal attack on Jamie (Douglas Booth) and his pregnant wife Maya (Hannah John-Kamen, Killjoys) in their London flat. Escaping the gangs and their urban trauma, the couple move to rural Ireland when Jamie inherits a house from his aunt Maeve. Maeve’s only request? That they leave a blood offering every evening, before sunset, for the fear dearg (or redcaps) living at the bottom of the garden. The consequences, if forgotten, would be disastrous for the couple and their unborn baby.

Desperate to be rid of their kindly neighbour Niamh (Niamh Cusack) and explore their new home together, Jamie and Maya mask their scepticism and agree to the bizarre request.

The first law of folk horror: don't make promises you have no intention of keeping

Knowing that they’ve inherited a fixer-upper, the couple dive right into a home improvement project with the help of Colm Whelan (Colm Meaney, Gangs of London) and his very strange offspring. Things get off to a bad start and rapidly go downhill from there.

The second law of folk horror: don’t piss off the locals

What is there left for a slightly naïve inner-city couple to do? Probably best for one to keep secrets, the other to gaslight them, and one to make a rather ill-advised deal with the fear dearg.

The third law of folk horror: never, ever make a bargain with the fae

With themes of trauma, delusions and promises that can’t be kept, Unwelcome explores taking back control in the face of adversity versus diving into the darkness and embracing the chaos. Sometimes hysterical laughter is the only reasonable option after all.

Unwelcome is a visual feast. From the old house to Maya’s yellow dress to the woods at the bottom of the garden, each scene is beautifully composed and brimming with colour. The redcaps were so well done. Director Jon Wright confirmed that they used actors Paul Warren, Rick Warden and stunt performers to play the redcaps and then filmed on double-sized sets to complete their appearance as little people. I genuinely would not want to run into one of them in a darkened forest.

The film features some legends of Irish film, including Colm Meaney and Niamh Cusack, but the whole cast is really good. Hannah John-Kamen shone as Maya and Jamie-Lee O’Donnell was utterly convincing as the brutish Aisling Whelan. I began to despise Jamie more with every passing scene, so kudos to Douglas Booth too for delivering an entirely flawed character.

Beware of the locals. All of them

There is a lot going on in Unwelcome. I liked that I could never quite tell who the real villains were and I also appreciated the parallel telling of the paranormal and human threats. I enjoyed the film a lot, right up until the very strange ending, and for the most part it was a thrilling ride.

I’m a little torn on how to rate Unwelcome. I would have liked to see far more on the mythology of the redcaps but ultimately appreciated that there wasn't a massive amount of exposition to weigh down a fast-paced film. I’m definitely on the fence about that weird ending though, even though I knew it was coming, but recommend to fans of folk horror and lovers of European folklore. I'm definitely interested enough to check out the work of director Jon Wright and screenwriter Mark Stay.

A Shudder Exclusive, Unwelcome premieres on Friday 23 June 2023. Streaming Exclusively on Shudder and AMC+

Unwelcome (2022) Trailer. Directed by Jon Wright


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