Oct 16, 2023
Unwelcome is Gremlins meets Straw Dogs and is rooted in tradition and mythology, infusing a creature feature with searing psychological horror.
The 2022 film Unwelcome mixes the real-world horrors of home invasions with a creature feature, and while the result can be a little uneven, it is still a satisfying watch. Directed by Jon Wright, who brought audiences Robot Overlords (2014) and Grabbers (2012), Unwelcome sets itself apart from other such movies by embracing 80’s style practical effects over CGI. Drawing on Irish folklore, Unwelcome was pitched by Wright as “Gremlins meets Straw Dogs.”
Unwelcome stars Hannah John-Kamen (Ant-Man and the Wasp) and Douglas Booth (Great Expectations) as Maya and Jamie, a young couple who are the victims of a brutal home invasion the night they learn Maya is pregnant. While Maya is unharmed in the invasion, Jamie is severely beaten. The trauma of the incident leads them to relocate to Ireland, where Jamie has just inherited his aunt’s old estate. Maya and Jamie are embraced by the locals—for the most part. The estate is in desperate need of repair, and the couple hire a family known as the Whelans to fix it up.
On their first night in the house, they are advised by local neighbor Maeve (Niamh Cusack, of The Tower) to leave out a blood offering each night, to appease the “Redcaps.” Maya and Jamie dismiss Niamh’s warnings. The next day, the Whelan family arrives at the estate. “Daddy” Whelan (played to the hilt by Colm Meaney, of Hell on Wheels) bullies his three grown children, played by Jamie-Lee O’Donnell (Screw), Kristian Nairn (Hodor, of Game of Thrones) and Chris Walley (The Last Voyage of Demeter). The children, in turn, terrorize Maya and Jamie, starting by stealing small stuff from their house. Later, one of the children, Eoin (Nairn), tries to assault Maya, drawing the wrath of the Redcaps, who drag him away.
Matters spiral out of control from there. Looking for his missing son, Daddy Whelan and his surviving brood ramp up their war against Maya and Jamie, ultimately culminating in another violent home invasion. All the while, the two must contend with the Redcaps and a legacy of evil that threatens to engulf them. The two stories collide in a brutal and unforgettable climax, ending on a truly horrifying note.
Unwelcome has a good deal going for it. Like all good folk horror, Unwelcome is rooted in tradition and mythology, in this case from the British Isles. The film’s Redcaps are actual creatures from Scottish and English lore. Closely resembling leprechauns, Redcaps are said to kill those who enter their territory, staining their hats red with the blood of their victims. Also called the far darring, these creatures are evil and malevolent. The Redcaps are brought to glorious life using largely practical effects, which adds a layer of realism to their appearance. The Redcaps’ menacing look was designed by Paul Catling with prosthetics created by Shaune Harrison. The lack of CGI in Unwelcome is a breath of fresh air in today’s industry.
Yet Unwelcome is not merely another creature feature. Instead, Wright infuses the movie with searing psychological horror. Maya and Jamie have been through hell together, surviving a violent home invasion with their lives. Wright effectively explores the trauma the incident left on them: Jamie becomes increasingly violent and more protective of Maya, to the point of reading books on self-defense techniques. Maya, by and far, seems to have healed and moved on from the trauma, but Jamie cannot let it go. It is a bleak and stark reminder that recovering from trauma takes time, if it happens at all.
Wright described the film as a “home invasion thriller,” invoking the classic Sam Peckinpah film Straw Dogs (1971). Indeed, there are a number of similarities. Maya and Jamie, much like David and Amy in Straw Dogs, have relocated to the countryside, running up against provincial thinking and customs and mores that are wildly different. And just like Straw Dogs, this mistrust and tension builds to an explosive final conflict, one in which there are no real victors. One of Straw Dogs’ themes of violence causing us to lose our humanity is taken to its extreme here in a bloody and unsettling ending.
These elements could make Unwelcome a truly great movie, but the execution is a little uneven. However, the performances, particularly from Colm Meaney, more than make up for any deficiencies in the script. Likewise, Douglas Booth does an excellent job of chronicling Jamie’s descent into madness, one spurred not only by painful memories from London but also by the supernatural events going on around him. A fine addition to the folk horror canon, Unwelcome manages to rise above any flaws to become an entertaining movie.
Unwelcome is currently streaming on AMC+, Prime Video, and DirecTV and is available to rent or purchase on Shudder, Google Play, Vudu, AppleTV, and Roku Channel.
Shaun Corley is an East Coast pop culture enthusiast who loves to write about everything entertainment. A big, important Screen Rant writer, Shaun has many leather-bound books, which are far outnumbered by comics and the smell of rich mahogany.