Unwelcome (2022) ***- Seen at the Cinema

Cult contender, assuming some basis in Irish legend. Otherwise, Straw Dogs (1971) meets Yoda with a side order of Barbarian (2022) and a touch of Se7en (1995). Someone’s definitely got it in for the Irish this year, but those finger-chopping Banshees have nothing on this little number.

After enduring a home invasion in the city, heavily pregnant Maya (Hannah-John Kamen) and cowardly husband Jamie (Douglas Booth) head for the Irish countryside, having inherited a rundown cottage from his odd aunt. Only thing is, warns neighbor and local publican Maeve (Maimh Cusack). you have to leave out a bit of bloody liver every day beside the back gate to assuage the Redcaps aka little people aka leprechauns aka goblins aka anything else you want to make up.

The story goes said aunt sacrificed her baby to save her dying husband, but it turns out the baby went missing, aged two, and was never found. Frosty reception at the local inn, a la An American Werewolf in London (1981), is a prank but the family of builders headed by a gobby Daddy (Colm Meaney), and his three kids, the gobby one from Derry Girls (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), a thin gobby lad (Chris Walley) – with “the brain of a rocking horse” – and a peeping tom of a giant (Kristian Nairn) are on the malevolent side.

Not content with stealing any spare cash, Jamie’s stash of chocolate biscuits and his beer, and stirring up anti-English sentiment, smoking joints when they should be working and generally acting like workshy cliches, they constantly challenge the milksop Englishman who can thump a punchbag to his heart’s content but finds it hard to raise a finger in anger.

Beyond the gate there’s some kind of magical silent wood and a stone house. And feral creatures, Yoda-shaped, with shark-like teeth who might be able to fly and might have something to do with a nearby castle. A drunk man might have gone missing. Maya might be seeing what isn’t there. It’s that kind of film, mostly suggestive until it suddenly catches fire. Then it’s an onslaught.

And if you can take the Redcaps as being covered in Boy Scout badges and displaying some neat dance moves and a climax that seems relentless with Maya forced to become Final Girl since Jamie is about as helpful as having Jack Whitehall on your team. There’s more rain than in the Seven Samurai, though, to be fair, we were warned it rains 365 days a year in Ireland, Jamie treated as punchbag, the creepy giant trying his hand at rape, the thin one about to make his bones as a murderer, childbirth, the girl full of sexual swagger, decapitated heads in shopping bags, slicing, dicing, shotguns and shillelaghs and, you guessed, it a frying pan, and ending with the barmiest, although to some extent logical, image imaginable.

Like any cult contender, your first reaction might well be to laugh your head off at the preposterous goings-on but strangely enough it does work. While continuing to proclaim his manly abilities, and his sworn duty to defend his wife, Jamie is very much the modern husband, that is to say useless, completely lacking the protection gene, leaving it to the gutsier woman to clean up the mess that his unnecessary bravado creates.

Had I seen this poster which gives the entire game away I wouldn’t have gone.

To her credit, Hannah-John Kamen (Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, 2021) goes the whole nine yards, continually playing the supportive wife to a weakling, turning the paranormal to her advantage, not averse to pulling the trigger should the occasion demand. There’s little backstory to hang her character on, apart from a desperation to conceive given a previous abortion. But she has to deal with a continually changing scenario, negotiation with the wayward family, calming the giant, taking narrative center stage.

And it might be better going into it without cinematic preconception. If you’re of the age of the target audience you might have never seen Straw Dogs, therefore the villainous quartet might not appear descendants of the previous film, and, like Barbarian, you might happily accept the importance of babies to the modern horror picture.

A bit too long perhaps, and at times you might not know whether to laugh or applaud, but in the great tradition of The Evil Dead (1981) you might come back for more. Not a horror film in the gore/splatter league, and not that thoughtful either, but still capable of exerting a cinematic spell.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

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