Mary Elnor is a young woman being accused of Witchcraft in Banfield, Massachusetts, in 1845. She is being hanged from a tree, and then lit on fire by an angry mob, who also bounds her spirit to the body of a doll before she takes her final breath.
Years later, we meet Gerry Fenn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who is a journalist who has gotten his reputation thrown into the gutter after being caught faking cases just to get publicity. He’s on an assignment which leads him to Boston, where he is going to look into a case of a cow with so-called satanic markings on it (which proves to be a teenage prank). Before deciding to leave the place and look for other means of stories that can give him some much-needed income, he finds the tree where Mary was hanged, and also the doll which was once “hidden” (in the very visible and big hole of the tree trunk…). He crushes the doll, and of course, then freeing the evil spirit of Mary Elnor.
After it gets dark and Gerry has decided to leave the place and return home, he sees a young girl run across the road to the tree where he found the doll earlier, and hears her speaking before fainting right in front of the tree. He takes the girl to a church nearby, and learns that her name is Alice and that she is actually deaf and can’t speak. This peaks his interest as he knows he heard her speak just moments before, and decides to stay around town to follow this strange case a bit further. Soon, Alice brings publicity from both close and far as not only does she now speak, but she claims that she was cured by the Virgin Mary, and she also starts healing people. When Gerry finds out that the so-called Virgin Mary is not what Alice believes her to be, but is instead a sinister entity, he tries to reveal what is actually the truth for once.
The Unholy is directed by Evan Spiliotopoulos, and is also his directional debut. It is based on a novel from 1983 by James Herbert, called Shrine. In the leading role we find Jeffrey Dean Morgan, whom most people probably know best as the villain “Negan” from The Walking Dead, but he also played the father of Supernatural-duo Sam & Dean. And oh boy, does this movie have a few cheesy Supernatural-vibes indeed!
The movie’s opening sequence leaves no mystery to be revealed, we already know that “Mary” isn’t the Virgin Mary, but the witch that was executed in 1845, Mary Elnor. Since we already know what’s going on, it’s hard to build any real suspense or sense of mystery, so the progress forward relies heavily on actor performances and character interactions. Fortunately, Jeffrey Dean Morgan does a solid job as the journalist who has fallen from grace and needs to turn his career around, only to find himself facing a dilemma: knowing that he’s now got a real, true case in his hands (not just another hoax), but also finding out that there’s something sinister going on, and that profiting from this case might not be the best moral decision. Thus, the lead character carries much of the movie. As for the villain, Mary Elnor herself, she does unfortunately not come off as the least bit scary. Often when she appears on screen, with her jerky movements and overly villainous treats, you almost feel like you should get your controller in hand and prepare yourself for a video-game boss battle. Like you’re watching some kind of cutscene before a fight. It does add another layer of cheese, however, and makes her appearances particularly entertaining.
And with all of that being said: The Unholy is not a scary movie, not even creepy. But if you can enjoy it as an easy-going popcorn flick with a little bit of B-grade cheese here and there (or like some kind of long Supernatural episode with Sam & Dean’s dad going on a solo-adventure), you’ll probably get some entertainment out of it.
Director: Evan Spiliotopoulos
Country & year: USA, 2021
Actors: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Cricket Brown, William Sadler, Katie Aselton, Cary Elwes, Diogo Morgado, Bates Wilder, Marina Mazepa, Christine Adams, Dustin Tucker, Gisela Chipe, Danny Corbo, Sonny Corbo