Unwelcome is an Irish folk horror film that initially shows a certain level of promise. But, it ultimately can’t overcome its pacing issues or the notion that the picture was put together by assembling a mishmash of recycled genre tropes.
Unwelcome begins with a harrowing home invasion that sees newly expectant mother Maya (Hannah John-Kamen) and her partner Jamie (Douglas Booth) fighting for their lives and the life of their unborn child. Months later, Jamie and Maya are on the cusp of becoming parents and in the process of relocating from London to an Irish estate left to the both of them by Jamie’s aunt. Once they arrive at their new domicile, the pair discover that tiny creatures (which are leprechaun-esque but not really leprechauns) live on the premises and require a daily blood sacrifice. If that isn’t enough, the estate needs repairs and the contractors that take on the work have seen Straw Dogs a few too many times.
If the plot crunch sounds discombobulated and unnecessarily complex to you, you’re not wrong. Unwelcome would have been better off focusing on one set of antagonists or the other. But both being an active presence make the finished product feel jumbled and disjointed.
The no-good contractors and the not-quite-leprechauns are battling for the viewer’s attention. The end result is a wandering narrative that can’t make up its mind about who the primary antagonist actually is. The separate storylines eventually appear as if they may intertwine but they really don’t. It’s more like two ships passing in the night. The mythical monsters’ and the human monsters’ arcs briefly intersect but the culmination doesn’t justify the arduous journey to get there or the constant back-and-forth along the way.
The leads effectively have two separate showdowns during the climax and the audience is tasked with sitting through both. Worse yet, there’s a lull between the two. After the situation with the contractors comes to a head, there’s a moment of tranquility where the audience is stuck in a purgatorial limbo, waiting for the secondary climax to unfold. That downtime is ultimately followed by a showdown with the non-leprechauns and then the goddamned credits finally roll.
As if the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach wasn’t challenging enough, the film also suffers from significant pacing issues. Things start off promisingly, with the home invasion in London. But from there, the pace slows to a crawl. The lead characters seem likable enough to start. But, they’re not engaging enough to carry the film through the subsequent aimlessness that follows the intense opening.
My other chief complaint is that Unwelcome doesn’t feel all the original. It’s like a combination of superior efforts thrown in a blender. The reception the leads receive from the locals feels a bit like An American Werewolf in London (particularly when Jamie and Maya enter the pub). There’s also a very obvious Straw Dogs dynamic between Jamie and the contractors. By way of that, there’s what almost seems like a bit of commentary on masculinity and the feelings of impotency caused by seeing an intimate partner abused with no recourse.
But the messaging isn’t all that effectively presented if it’s intentional. Moreover, it doesn’t feel like what could be read as commentary ever reaches the point of maturation. Straw Dogs has a lot to say about gender roles and the male gaze. But in Unwelcome, there is far less being said. And what’s being presented seems almost offhanded.
I think there are some good ideas at play here. And I think co-writer and director Jon Wright has talent. But the execution and the aimlessness of the narrative kept me from ever fully connecting with Unwanted.
If you’re keen to check the film out for yourself, Unwelcome comes to select theaters on March 10, 2023.
This Irish horror film suffers from a lack of direction and sluggish pacing.