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  • Nate Adams

Review: Religious themed horror flick 'The Unholy' won’t convert anyone

Courtesy of Sony


Perfectly timed as a bit of counter-programming during the Easter holiday stretch, the Sam Rami produced horror flick “The Unholy” brings forth yet another cheap, possession thriller that preys its target audience hasn’t seen a real scary movie. Considering its kid-friendly PG13 rating, anyone outside the tween demographic should be inclined to get their horror fix somewhere else. A self annotated master of horror, Rami has fielded wonderful treasures in the genre, from his own remake of “The Evil Dead,” to “Don’t Breathe” and the wildly slept on alligator flick “Crawl,” he’s got an eye for talent and there are moments in “The Unholy” that suggest filmmaker Evan Spiliotopoulos could be a strong voice in a crowded field, but this unoriginal and choppy, religious themed venture will struggle to convert anyone.

Adapted from James Herbert’s 1983 novel “Shrine,” Spiliotopoulos’ “The Unholy” takes inspired direction by focusing on a sleepy Massachusttes town and their obsession with a girl who dubs herself the conduit of the Virgin Mary. Enter Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s disgraced journalist Gerry Fenn, who was once considered for a Pulitizer, trying to nab his big exclusive comeback. Years of crafting sham fluff pieces for $150 bucks an article are wearing him down and his bout of alcoholism doesn’t get the creative juices flowing either. He ends up in Banfield, Mass chasing another lead and comes across the remarkable Alice (Cricket Brown), a deaf girl who miraculously is granted the ability to speak.

Alice becomes a viral, overnight sensation after she “blesses” others in her community with gifts and goes as far to give a young wheelchair stricken boy the ability to walk. Gerry - being the unbiased skeptic he is - makes an arrangement with the archdiocese of Boston (Cary Elwes - sporting a horrible and laughable accent) for unmitigated access to spread Alice’s message. Seems legits until a deep dive into Banfield’s troubled history signals Alice’s new found glory is the workings of, you guessed it, one pissed off demonic entity hellbent on revenge. General rule of thumb: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Or a demon has something to do with it.

The somber father-daughter vibe between Alice and Gerry is an emotional hook I wished Spiliotopoulos leaned into more - to actually make us invested in their relationship - but it’s never fleshed out beyond silly banter and a cordial discussion about the former’s obsession with country music. When the inevitable climatic battle of good versus evil takes shape, we’re supposed to believe that Gerry would do anything for Alice to presumably atone for his own sins? That never happens. The rest of the cast, including Christine Adams, Katie Aselton, and Willam Salder, aren’t given a shred of personality beyond talking heads and pigs on the chopping block. They each play dispensable characters who could be described in one sentence, and despite a few of the axings generating mild suspense, most of the carnage is shown off-camera thus underlying the impact.

In certain cases, well timed jolts can salvage an underwhelming plot, but aside from the obligatory “gotcha!” moments, which are few and far between, “The Unholy” doesn’t generate much enthusiasm. It might be enough to get horror craving fans back into theaters to feel something on the big screen, but the cheap CGI effects and flimsy production values signal this clunker should have gone straight to streaming.

Grade: D+

THE UNHOLY opens in theaters Friday, April 2nd.

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