Film Review: “Unwelcome” Starts Strong and Then Crumbles
Written by: Adam Vaughn | March 15th, 2023
Unwelcome (Jon Wright, 2022) 2 out of 4 stars.
Just as the film starts to get insightful and intuitive, director Jon Wright’s horror/fantasy feature quickly descends into chaos and stupidity, as a story about an interracial couple looking for acceptance into society slowly turns into…. something about elves? Unwelcome starts as newlyweds Maya (Hannah John-Kamen, Ant-Man and the Wasp) and Jamie (Douglas Booth, Mary Shelley) move from their crime-ridden neighborhood in London to a rural, quiet village outside of Ireland. At first, they are welcomed by the community, but very soon things are not as they appear, as the townspeople seem to hide a dark secret. On top of that, the couple’s new estate is also home to a dangerous presence: a band of ghoulish, elf-like creatures lurking in the woods outside.
The story is at its best when it conceals its monstrous little antagonists, and focuses on the mysterious and eerie human characters it establishes at the start. The theme of unacceptance in society plays a strong role in the exposition, establishing a very hostile world for Maya and Jamie in the very opening scene. The irony behind this theme is as they retire to a more tranquil and rural area of the world, they still encounter danger, and I absolutely love the parallel Wright includes in this phenomenon. Even as the creatures of the feature start to strike, things still start out for the best thanks to Wright’s perspective on setting and characters.
As Unwelcome delves deeper, however, it becomes clear that Wright is attempting to create an ironic and somewhat cynical story, introducing visual elements and plot lines that become unrealistic, silly, and outright strange. What was once a buildup to a horrific, tense climax becomes a bizarre and over-the-top experience, and the abrupt shift in tone does the film no justice, adding nothing of real value. The most disappointing thing is that John-Kamen and Booth’s terrific performances, with strong support from an ensemble led by Colm Meaney (Pixie), are laid to waste by poor writing in the second half.
As the film comes to a chaotic close, major characters are thrown away in unnecessary and violent scenes, a strange new character is introduced and tossed to the side, and Wright’s once-coherent plot becomes a bloody mess. Adding on the fact that the suspense and fright his ghoulish elf antagonists contribute to the script is now completely gone at this point, Unwelcome inevitably tries far too much to surprise its viewer with the last sequences, much in the bizarre vein of Sorry to Bother You or Get Out, but falls far too short. Sadly, while the film has much to praise for its original concept and themes, Wright takes one risk too many, resulting in a trainwreck of ideas by the time the movie concludes.