It takes a long time for the actual redcap fairies to show up, and when they do, the effect is either supposed to be hilarious, or it’s unintentionally so. They’re a little like Gremlins or Yoda (if Yoda were a wise-cracking mean-spirited trickster). The mystery of these beings is what makes the opening hour of the film so creepy. You know they’re there. You just can’t see them. Making them explicit, and seen, tips the film over into a comedy. (One of the Whelan kids sees a teeny hand coming through a doorway and murmurs, “Oh, for f**k’s sake …” Reader, I laughed out loud.) The Whelans are human, but they are so much more frightening than the Gremlins dancing around, wielding teeny swords. There are a couple of sequences, especially the one involving a severed head inside a plastic bag, that play like slapstick comedy. This was obviously deliberate, but the overall tone is uneven.
The production design of “Unwelcome” is all fairy-tale, all golden light and thick greens, misty shadowy forests, almost the platonic ideal of Ireland in its purest state, the Ireland of the mind. Shot by Hamish Doyne-Ditmas, the film’s look is artificial, so much so that a couple of exteriors look like they were shot on a soundstage (and perhaps they were). This creates a strange effect, but welcome, particularly today where so many films seem to have been shot in a strictly black-and-grey palette, or like there’s a layer of dirt over the camera lens. In “Unwelcome,” it’s all golden and green. Wright told Empire he liked “horrors” that were “like adult fairy tales.” “Unwelcome” definitely applies.
John-Kamen and Booth create a believable relationship, good building blocks to develop as “Unwelcome” progresses. Jamie, ashamed at his cowardice during the apartment invasion, quivers with impotent rage, totally deteriorating his sweet personality. He needs to prove himself a real man. Booth really leans into this, and his sense of rage at the Whelan Invasion is palpable. Hannah, hugely pregnant throughout, goes through the biggest transformation, from traumatized skeptic to wild-eyed believer. John-Kamen tracks this progression every step of the way. Her journey is harrowing, and John-Kamen makes us believe it.
Now playing in theaters and available on digital on March 14th.