By Jeffrey Anderson,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Disappointing horror movie is boring despite jump scares.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Movie closes with lines "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves," which warns against trusting people who seem too good to be true. It's a safe assessment, and one that's designed to protect, but it's also a fairly cynical one, as sometimes people are truly good.
Positive Role Models
Gerry Fenn evolves from someone who made up stories as a journalist, was "high" on his own fame, and drank too much to someone who cares more about others than he does his own career (and he seems to stop drinking). It's a positive move, but it happens quickly and doesn't feel genuine. Other characters don't really have much of an arc at all.
Violence & Scariness
In flashback sequence from victim's POV, a mask is nailed to a woman's face, and she's hung in a tree and burned (banging sounds, lots of screaming). Sizzling corpse shown. Jump scares. Scary monster that twitches and jumps at the camera. Character hanged by rope. A large cross catches fire, falls on top of a character, kills him. A tent full of people catches fire, causing panic. Vehicle crashes into tree. Statues weep blood. Some creepy imagery -- e.g., "kern" dolls. Violent dialogue ("ripped open their windpipes," etc.).
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Mention of "unholy orgies."
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A use of "f--k," a few uses of "s--t" or "bulls--t," and occasional uses of "bastard," "son of a bitch," "damn," "ass," "hell," "crap," "idiot," and "pissed off."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Main character shown hung over, pouring alcohol into coffee from a flask. Alcohol bottle rolls around in front seat of truck. Mention of character's blood alcohol level. A priest smokes cigarettes. Brief social drinking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Unholy is a horror movie about a young woman who's hard of hearing who suddenly starts hearing and speaking, thanks to a potential miracle. Violence includes a somewhat intense flashback, shown from the victim's point of view, of a mask being nailed to a woman's face. She's then hung in a tree and burned, a scene that's accompanied by banging sounds and screaming. Her sizzling corpse is also briefly shown. A scary monster lurches at the camera, and there are jump scares, deaths, a character hanged by a rope, a character crushed by a burning cross, statues weeping blood, and more. Language isn't frequent but includes a use of "f--k," plus "s--t," "son of a bitch," etc., as well as the phrase "unholy orgies." A main character is shown hung over and drinking from a flask, and cigarette smoking is shown.
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What's the Story?
THE UNHOLY takes viewers to the small community of Banfield, Massachusetts, where disgraced reporter Gerry Fenn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) arrives to do the kind of story he's been relegated to: investigating a local man's "mutilated" cow. Instead, Fenn finds a strange doll -- a "kern doll" -- with a strange date on it, under a nearby tree. He breaks it so that he can make up a story to go with the cow. Not long after, Alice (Cricket Brown), a young woman who is hard of hearing, makes her way to the tree and is suddenly healed: She can hear and speak. She has seemingly been healed by the Virgin Mary, and she implores others to believe. Fenn starts covering the story, and, as more miracles happen, he begins returning to his former glory. But Alice's uncle, Father Hagan (William Sadler), warns that, where miracles are present, the devil cannot be far behind.
Is It Any Good?
This atmospheric horror movie starts off well, with plenty of intriguing imagery and history, but it eventually drifts into autopilot, falling back on routine scares, lazy dialogue, and shortcuts. The Unholy is set in a small town where faith plays a key role, which means old churches and plenty of statues and candles, stained-glass windows, and other symbols -- and even a creaky church basement and a musty old book. There's whispered dialogue about the ancient mechanisms of good and evil and God and the devil. But once the story is underway and the mysteries are revealed, the mood is undone.
Morgan is terrific at this kind of thing, grizzled and sturdy but with an undeniable warmth. Yet his character changes rather rapidly from a self-obsessed, hard-drinking wreck into a man who cares deeply about others. (Other characters barely develop at all.) The plot twists happen too quickly, and mainly on the surface. The scary stuff is perhaps most disappointing, relegated to jump scares, buzzing or flickering lights, and a stale old digital monster that twitches and contorts and lurches ahead in fast-motion. All in all, The Unholy should say three "Hail Marys" for the sin of being boring.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about The Unholy's violence. Does the lack of blood and gore make it feel any less intense?
What's the appeal of horror movies? Why do people sometimes like being scared?
How is alcohol portrayed? Is it glamorized? Are there consequences? Why does that matter?
Do you believe that miracles can really happen? Why, or why not?
- In theaters: April 2, 2021
- On DVD or streaming: May 25, 2021
- Cast: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Cricket Brown, Katie Aselton
- Director: Evan Spiliotopoulos
- Studio: Screen Gems
- Genre: Horror
- Topics: Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Run time: 99 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: violent content, terror and some strong language
- Last updated: April 7, 2023
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