Jeffrey Dean Morgan believes in God.
There’s a lesson in How About Notflix for everyone, like if you’re not going to curate your Redbox purchases, you shouldn’t curate your viewing order. As a result of my consistency in buying multiple Redbox discs whenever I go grocery shopping, I’ve wound up with a lot of crappy looking indie horror films. Unfortunately my inkling of “I don’t want to watch that tonight” has led my unviewed collection to be almost entirely crappy looking indie horror films.
We need to deal with this, and apparently throwing away the discs is not an option. So I came up with a solution whereby my former podcast co-hosts use the RedBox cases to beat the everloving crap out of me and whichever disc breaks skin first is the one I watch. Come to think of it, the last few shlocky looking horror films I reviewed turned out to be alright. Concussions help lower your expectations, try it at home kids.
The Unholy is a 2021 film directed by Evan Spiliotopoulos, Greek screenwriter at least partially responsible for most of the trash that came out of Disney over the last couple decades. Name a crappy animated sequel to a Disney film since 2004’s Lion King 1.5 and Evan’s name is probably tacked onto it. But The Unholy is his directorial debut, and how does he do? Fine. Just fine.
Evidently Evan has some friends in Hollywood, as The Unholy is produced by himself, Sam Raimi (yes that one) and Robert Tapert. Yea, the writer for the Xena: Warrior Princess show. The film stars none other than Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Gerry Fenn, disgraced journalist who works for a crappy tabloid mystery magazine when his antics accidentally release the spirit of a ghost in the small town of Banfield, Massachusetts. Not to imply that Morgan has a narrow acting range, but Gerry does feel like the origin story to Negan.
Kudos to the movie for going on hard on the Bahston accents, which is surprisingly rare even in films set in Massachusetts. Cricket Brown plays Alice Pagett, a deaf-mute who finds herself suddenly able to talk and hear thanks to a divine gift from above. She starts performing miracles like curing a crippled child in a wheelchair. But is it a divine gift? And is it from above? Or is it straight from Satan’s rectum, baked scenically in the sulfur-ridden bowels of a high powered oven located at the nearby Little Caesars Pizza. Alice is about to take a bite from Satan’s crazy bread. Or as she calls it, just bread.
The ensemble cast is quite impressive, including William Sadler as Father William Hagan. Sadler played Death in the Bill and Ted movies as well as the Detective in the 2020 Grudge film. Katie Aselton plays Natalie Gates, an alumni from How About Notflix film favorite Fun Mom Dinner, aka Mom’s Box Lunch. Cary Elwes is here, Robinhood from the 1993 film Robinhood: Men in Tights. There’s also other people.
One criticism I’ll give the film is direction between live action and CG. It becomes rather obvious when the director doesn’t tell the actors what they’re looking at, because there’s a lot of jump scares that happen where the character either doesn’t address or doesn’t specifically address what they just saw. Often times it just cuts to the next scene and the same person is walking along all doodly doodly like a demon nun didn’t just jump out of a puddle and grab their face. It has some real IT Chapter 1 dissonance to the jump scares and the following scene.
There isn’t any level of mystery in this film for the audience, although Gerry’s job is to figure out why the miracles Alice performs may be too good to be true. It’d be oddly refreshing to see a movie about miracles that contains an ardent atheist and a bunch of priests, and the priests are the ones trying to disprove the miracle’s authenticity. But it’s not, because Gerry is yet another lapsed Catholic.
CG in the movie is obviously low budget and the jump scares are cheap and obvious. There’s the requisite Latino priest who happens to be in Massachusetts because every shlock possession film needs to have a devoutly religious Hispanic person to be the expert on Jesus Christo. The worst I can say about this movie is that it’s boring and tired, but it’s also 99 minutes.
The biggest sin this movie commits is letting the audience know the answer right from the start. Expositing the whole story of the witch and having the audience aware that Alice’s miracles aren’t coming from God just means the audience sits around while the characters catch up to us over the next 65 minutes. It’s frustrating watching them fumble around when you know the answer, rather than being part of the discovery process. It’d be like if in Empire Strikes Back the prologue had Darth Vader straight up tell the Emperor that Luke was his son only to try to play it as a big moment at the end like the audience doesn’t already know.
But even with the shlocky jump scares, the movie as a full package is a pretty interesting story with a decent payoff at the end, both in how the evil is ultimately defeated and how Gerry pulls it all off. The actors being charming as hell definitely helps that along. It’s a middle of the road horror film straight down the line.