Jon Wright’s Unwelcome has some delightfully freaky faeries and a few laughs, but its plot issues spoil the fun somewhat.
When a film starts with a young couple, fresh off the joy of a positive pregnancy test, suffering a brutal home invasion, one might expect the rest of the film to keep a similarly serious tone. But when, not ten minutes later, that same young couple are being told to offer blood offerings to the ‘little people’ that live at the end of their new garden, that expectation soon fades away.
Jon Wright’s comedy horror Unwelcome is definitely something unexpected. A mishmash of genres, it seems to flirt with the idea of being a tense thriller, a comedy-horror and a folk-inspired creature feature. But despite a few (possibly unintentional) laughs, it never really manages to convince as any of them.
Shaken up after their London flat is violently broken into, Maya (Hannah John-Kamen) and Jamie (Douglas Booth), weeks away from the birth of their baby, move into the fixer-upper house inherited from Jamie’s late aunt in rural Ireland. It comes with some dated wallpaper, a hole in the roof, and a gate at the bottom of the garden which leads to the woods where the little people, better known as the Far Darrig, live. Naturally.
In desperate need of some builders to make it liveable, the couple hire the Whelan family – led by psychotic patriarch ‘Daddy’ (Colm Meaney, of Gangs of London) – to renovate on a budget. But they’re much more interested in stealing, making veiled and not-so-veiled threats, and generally being a nightmare. When Maya is blamed for the disappearance of eldest son Eoin (Kristian Nairn), her pleas for help are answered by the Far Darrig and, well, mayhem ensues.
It’s fair to say that the final third of this film goes almost completely off the rails. Not only is there the Straw Dogs-esque ‘couple terrorised in their own home’ showdown, but there’s also the introduction of the delightfully weird, impressively rendered Far Darrig. They’re fun, freaky, and also completely mental. Knife-wielding and giggling things like “no hitty, silly billy”, the little goblin-like creatures – made possible by a mixture of motion-capture and stunt performances – are possibly the best thing about the entire film. To the point where the entire Whelan-family plot thread, with the almost laughably cliché characters and their cringey dialogue, could have been cut almost entirely and it wouldn’t have made an impact.
Unfortunately, that storyline is very much there, and it makes the majority of the film a bit of a slog to get through. It isn’t funny, it isn’t scary or thrilling, and almost every performance is, well, a bit naff. Douglas Booth in particular feels somewhat oddly miscast as the hapless husband who cringes from confrontation. If the focus had been purely on the Far Darrig, with the entire film much more invested in the ‘folk horror’ element and John-Kamen’s admittedly compelling wandering in the woods, it could have been much more of a thrill. The laughs might not necessarily have been at the film, and rather with it. Because until the chaos of the final 40 minutes, it doesn’t give the impression that it’s in on the joke, and that sort of deflates the fun.
While director Jon Wright has had success in the comedy-horror genre previously, with 2012’s Grabbers and its booze-addled aliens, sadly this is a bit of a misstep. Unwelcome baffles and briefly amuses, but doesn’t necessarily entertain. And that’s a shame, because the impressive Far Darrig are worth a much better film being fit around their unique brand of batsh*t than they’ve been given.
Unwelcome will be released in select US theaters on March 10, on digital platforms on March 14, and on Shudder June 23, 2023.
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