Small little creature features have been a mainstay in Hollywood for decades. As a kid from the 80’s I can remember classic nights in the dark with friends watching schlocky franchises like Ghoulies, and Critters as little creatures wreaked havoc. Jon Wright’s new Irish folklore flick Unwelcome felt like something between those memorable B-horror romps and another Irish-ish horror series, The Leprechaun. Wright reportedly pitched this film as Gremlins meets Straw Dogs and to be honest, he delivers that with this film. Unfortunately, it was too much Straw Dogs, and not enough Gremlins.
I enjoyed parts of this movie and I appreciate the wild over-the-top turn Unwelcome makes in the finale. It takes the insanity to fun levels and the gratuitous violence was effective for a horror film of this type. The use of puppetry and practical effects was also appreciated despite coming at the cost of truly frightening visuals. However, on the other side of that coin the look of these little goblins living in the woods create a comical vibe which helps to make Wright’s film a capable horror comedy. At times you can laugh at this movie, during other spots you can laugh with it, and it naturally increases the engagement.
Wright’s direction is fine overall, nothing flashy but more than effective for the overall aesthetic of this movie. Visually there’s an added vibrance to the colors. The backdrops at times also appear somewhat flat, but at the same time there is a depth to them and with all of these elements blended together Unwelcome during long stretches feels like a story pulled right from the pages of an old book of fables once it hits the Irish countryside. It’s a nice touch that creates a charming atmosphere for this story, while also adding a bit more immersion while watching.
However, on the downside like I mentioned this was a bit too much Straw Dogs. The plot centers on Maya (Hannah John-Kamen) and Jamie (Douglas Booth). She’s pregnant and after a home invasion they decide to move out to rural Ireland. When they get to their new home, they learn that there are goblins living in the woods that come up to the foot of their garden, and that they must be fed to keep at bay. So, there’s the Gremlin-esque concept. However, as they get adjusted to their new place, and while the movie does routinely tease this dark looming threat of creatures in the woods, the story spends about an hour focusing on Maya and Jamie’s dynamics with the Whelan family who they’ve hired to fix up their home. These long sections of generic storytelling, and character development, with serviceable acting does kill the mood more than you would want. Besides, all of this was already done to better results in…Straw Dogs.
On the bright side, when the final act kicks in the madness increases exponentially and that is when this movie is a blast for those who enjoy absurd horror comedy. These little creatures known as the Redcaps aren’t necessarily on the same page as Chucky or Leprechaun. They feel more like Fraggle Rock: After Dark, and when the rampage is on, it’s silly feel-good horror. It’s just too bad a bulk of the run-time of Unwelcome is spent on the less appealing of the two themes it uses to build its plotline.
Anthony J. Digioia II © 2023 SilverScreen Analysis. All Rights Reserved.