Unwelcome (2022) IMDB description: “Married couple Maya and Jamie escape their urban nightmare to the tranquility of rural Ireland only to discover malevolent and murderous goblins lurking in the gnarled, ancient wood at the foot of their new garden.”
Why I took it off the list: I had tickets to see the premiere of Unwelcome at the Sitges Film Festival in 2022. My plan was to review it as a Double Feature alongside another recent Irish-shot horror film, Noceboo (2022).
However, I accidentally mixed up the time of the screening and arrived about an hour late. With my Sitges Double Feature plans scuppered, I just published my Nocebo review and planned to review Unwelcome at a later date.
When I saw that it had finally been given a wide release, I jumped at the chance to check it out. Pretty much because I enjoyed director Jon Wright’s previous horror/comedy Grabbers (2012) so much, and his latest effort seemed to be very much in the same vein. So, let’s dig in!
Review of Unwelcome (2022)
Warner Bros. first released a trailer (below) for Unwelcome in December 2021, yet its release was delayed several times, and most audiences weren’t able to get their eyes on it until early 2023. While this might have been for a number of reasons (COVID fears most likely included) you get the feeling the studio wasn’t really sure how to market this thing and who exactly the audience was.
Unwelcome is certainly a strange beast. In theory, it’s a wacky horror comedy about a group of evil goblins infesting the new home of a couple expecting their first child. And it is that…at fleeting points during the film and in the last third of the movie.
Where Grabbers was consistently a comedy horror throughout its runtime, Unwelcome starts off as a more harrowing, realistic thriller about an urban home invasion.
When the central couple ditch London for an inherited cottage in the Irish countryside, it then becomes more of a folk horror flick. Lead Maya finds a strange little stone house in the woods out back. And a local woman (Niamh Cusack) sincerely warns her not to forget to leave a nightly blood sacrifice (raw liver will do) for the fairies supposedly lurking in the garden.
It then veers more towards the comedy side of things with the introduction of a local ne‘er–do–well family who Maya and her husband hire to fix up the house. These unlikely contractors then proceed to cause mayhem, which is comedic until it suddenly isn’t. It’s only then the film remembers that it has advertised itself as a wacky goblin caper, and actually delivers on that promise.
Worth It for the Goblins
When Unwelcome’s evil Irish Redcaps actually turn up, it becomes a fun and inventive ride that showcases some fantastic practical creature effects. The goblins are everything you want them to be: grubby-looking, uncanny in their movements, kind of irritating, and quite creepy, and the fun gore ramps up to giddy levels. It’s just a shame that the film forgets about its main attraction for large stretches of time, as the human characters are far less compelling.
Hannah John-Kamen (Ghost in Ant Man and the Wasp) and Douglas Booth do their best to give us 3-dimensional characters to care about, and John-Kamen is particularly successful. However, the trouble-making contractors come across as a grab-bag of hoary old Irish stereotypes and barely convince as threats when they are called on to play the villains. This is a bit of a crime when you have such talented actors playing them, including Colm Meaney (Intermission) and Kristian Nairn (Hodor in Game of Thrones).
I do admire Wright’s adhesion to the rule that movie monsters are scariest when rarely seen, but I think he might have taken that advice a little too far here. While it’s obvious he included the family of local louts to further extend the home invasion subtext, it’s kind of puzzling he didn’t just fully commit to the goblins for this metaphor.
Final Score: 6/10
Unwelcome (2022): Worth Watching?
Yes, although it suffers from some wild tonal shifts and is somewhat underwhelming in its delivery of both comedy and thrills, Unwelcome is still an entertaining way to pass an evening. It’s worth watching purely for the awesome practical effects used to bring the imps to life, though they are not on screen nearly enough.