Jeffrey Dean Morgan stars as a disgraced journalist who heads to New England to investigate some supernatural happenings in “The Unholy,” a lackluster horror flick costarring Katie Aselton and newcomer Cricket Brown.
Written and directed by Evan Spiliopoulous, who makes his filmmaking debut after receiving screenwriting credit on a number of high-profile projects (“Hercules,” “Beauty and the Beast”), this ungodly entry in the horror genre offers up an intriguing premise and some moody atmosphere, but ultimately suffers from a lack of action and, more unforgivably, a lack of terror. Based on the James Herbert novel “Shrine,” this supernatural scarer excels in its use of creepy visuals, most noticeably the camerawork of Craig Wrobleski and the production design of Felicity Abbott, but is weighed down by an uninspired script featuring one-note characters, a predictable plot line, and an absence of genuine scares. Even with a colorful cast that includes horror vets like William Sadler and Cary Elwes, and some solid chemistry between Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Katie Aselton, “The Unholy” falls far short of the high expectations set by previous genre classics like “The Exorcist,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” and “Carrie.”
“The Unholy” centers on Gerry Fenn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a disgraced journalist who fell into disrepute after being exposed for fabricating a slew of articles. Now a stringer-for-hire with a focus on supernatural tabloid stories, Fenn unexpectedly finds the opportunity for career resurrection in the small New England farm town of Banfield. There, while investigating a dead-end story, Fenn happens upon a strange situation involving a deaf girl named Alice (Cricket Brown) who suddenly, inexplicably learns to not only speak but perform miracles as well.
An opportunist by trade, Fenn immediately sees the situation as a goldmine and goes about forging a bond with Alice and talking her priest uncle, Father Hagan (William Sadler), into granting him exclusive interview rights. But while the miracles taking place put the town of Banfield in the spotlight, there’s something sinister in the air, causing Fenn and a local doctor (Katie Aselton) to investigate the mysteries underlying the miracles. As the secrets are revealed, we come to realize that there is more evil than good lurking in this New England town.
Although the catchy premise will keep audiences interested in the wicked proceedings, they will eventually come to the saddening realization that “The Unholy” is more terrible than terrifying. While writer-director Evan Spiniopoulos does show a knack for building atmosphere, and creates some sufficiently spooky imagery along with his cinematographer Craig Wrobleski, there is an undeniable blandness and artificiality to the storyline that becomes more noticeable as the story progresses. Even though the script uses an engaging setup similar to a journalism thriller to form the framework, the lead character is too ignoble to serve as a relatable protagonist, while the supernatural aspects of the storyline never really come together in satisfying fashion. Even with the moody score by Joseph Bishara setting the tone, and the jarring editing by Jake York adding some shock value, there just isn’t enough here to fulfill the horror crowd.
Even though the character of disgraced journalist Gerry Fenn is a shameless opportunist, Jeffrey Dean Morgan brings an air of charm to the role that makes his repugnant side more tolerable, and the time passes easily enough in his company. Playing the doctor that helps Fenn unearth the secrets of Banfield, Katie Aselton is as always a lively and dependable presence. William Sadler also puts in some reliable character work as the emphysema-ridden Father Hagan, while Cary Elwes lends an uneasy quality to the role of Bishop Gyles, but it’s newcomer Cricket Brown that leaves the lasting impression as the miracle working deaf teen who captures the town’s imagination.
Those looking for a touch of evil on Good Friday may want to check out “The Unholy,” but all they’ll find is a bad horror film.
By Lucas Mirabella
Running Time: 100 minutes
Rated PG-13 for violent content, terror and some strong language.