I’ve been looking forward to Unwelcome for a while now. The movie was originally supposed to come out about a year ago, but it was abruptly pulled from the release schedule. It got stuck in that “release limbo” for several months, and to be honest, I soon started to worry that I’d never be able to see it. But thankfully, the film was eventually put back on the schedule, and after getting the chance to review it, I’m happy to say that it was worth the wait.
Unwelcome was directed by Jon Wright, and it stars Hannah John-Kamen, Douglas Booth, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, Colm Meaney, Kristian Nairn, and Niamh Cusack. It’s about Maya and Jamie, a young couple in London who one day learn they’re going to have a baby. They’re thrilled at the prospect of being parents, but almost immediately, their joy turns into terror. A group of three men break into their apartment and try to kill them, and even though the couple and their unborn child survive the attack, Jamie and Maya both come out of it pretty traumatized.
They’re soon able to move from the dangerous city to the Irish countryside after Jamie’s great-aunt Maeve passes away and leaves them her house, and when they arrive, they think they’ve finally found a safe place to have their baby. However, their new home isn’t quite as peaceful as they thought. They have a weird stone wall in their backyard with a small opening that leads out to the woods, and one of the locals tells them that Maeve used to leave a little offering there every night for the Redcaps (aka the Little People), a malevolent race of goblins that will punish Jamie and Maya if they don’t continue the tradition.
For about the first hour or so, Unwelcome is pretty much all setup, so don’t expect too much explicit horror in this part of the movie. At most, you’ll get a glimpse or two of the Redcaps and their handiwork, but by and large, this section of the film is more concerned with introducing you to the characters, the village, and its lore.
It’s a fairly slow burn, so this first hour stands or falls almost entirely on the strength of its characters. And thankfully, everybody in the movie is up to the task. The supporting actors are all really good, but hands down, the real draws here are Hannah John-Kamen and Douglas Booth, the actors who play Maya and Jamie. They’re asked to convey a pretty wide range of emotions, including exuberance, anger, anxiety, and terror, and they completely nail every single one of them. They make their characters feel entirely real, so I bought into them from the very first time they appeared on screen right up until the credits began to roll.
Because of that, I quickly came to care about Maya and Jamie, so even though the first hour of Unwelcome is fairly slow, I enjoyed almost every second of it. I just really liked seeing these characters go about their lives, and I had no problem waiting a while to get to the “good stuff.”
On top of that, I also quite enjoyed learning about the Redcaps in this part of the film. Like I said, we get a few glimpses here and there of these little monsters and their handiwork, but for the most part, we learn about them through what the characters say. For example, one of them claims to have seen the creatures, and we also find out that Maeve had a child who she believed was killed by the Redcaps.
In fact, I’d even say that Unwelcome is at its best when it’s just giving us hints and intimations of what the Little People can do. As is often the case, these monsters are much scarier when they’re shrouded in mystery and legend than when they’re standing right in front of you, so I actually thought the first hour was the best part of the movie.
But don’t get me wrong, the third act of this film is still quite good. It takes a somewhat abrupt narrative turn and gets a bit crazy (in a good way!), and when the Redcaps finally come out of the shadows and make their presence known, they’re pretty cool. In particular, the movie uses these monsters in a somewhat different way than I was expecting, and I thought that was a refreshing change of pace. Granted, the creatures’ role in the story becomes obvious well before they arrive on the scene, but it’s not what the basic premise of the film would lead you to expect.
All that being said, I have to acknowledge that Unwelcome isn’t a perfect movie. In particular, it has two flaws that really stood out to me. For starters, even though I liked the Redcaps, they’re not quite as monstrous as I wanted them to be. There are a few times when the characters fight them off a bit too easily, and there’s even a disappointing moment when the creatures seem a little cowardly. Secondly, the film tries to make a point about the importance of healing from your trauma, but it doesn’t quite work. I appreciate the message, but it just feels forced at times, and it gets surprisingly muddled at the end.
However, in the grand scheme of things, those are both relatively minor issues, so on the whole, I really enjoyed Unwelcome. It puts a fun creature feature spin on a stereotypical folk horror plot, and it’s grounded by a pair of excellent main characters. It’s pretty much everything I wanted it to be, so if you’re looking for some good new horror to watch, I heartily recommend that you check this movie out.
Unwelcome comes out in limited theaters on March 10, and it hits VOD on March 14.