Movie Review: “Unwelcome” pregnant couple face Ireland’s other “little people”

Now here’s a proper gore and splatter fest, and from Ireland no less.

“Unwelcome” is a murderous mashup of “Straw Dogs” and...wait for it…”Leprechaun!” It’s visceral (literally) and pulse-pounding on occasion. And as we see the wee creatures making all this mayhem, it’s also laugh-out-loud funny.

Hannah John-Kamen and Douglas Booth play a young couple whom we meet on the day she pees on a stick and delivers the good news. They’re EXPECTING.

But living in a high-rise/low-rent London housing estate, Jamie can’t even pop down to the shop for a bottle of celebratory non-alcoholic prosecco without being hassled by goons. They follow him home and brutally assault the couple.

Jamie was never the most butch lad in the lot, but while both of them are traumatized, he’s haunted by the experience on a primal masculinity-questioning level.

We know the minute he promises “I am never going to let that happen to you again,” he’ll have trouble keeping that promise, even if he does buy a punching bag to work out his frustrations on.

Lucky for Jamie his aunt back in rural Ireland died. They’ve inherited a Place in the Country, where the locals seem welcoming, if a tad superstitious. Maya’s just got to remember to leave a “blood offering” every night at the entrance to their gated forest.

“For the far darrig, the ‘redcaps,'” the helpful local Maeve (Niamh Cusack) says, as if she’s making a lick of sense. But she makes Maya promise promise PROMISE to leave a little raw liver out.

Meanwhile, the house has fallen into “fixer upper” status. Finding a local contractor seems futile until they stumble into the Whelans, an unsavory crew whom the locals raise an eyebrow over.

“Just don’t leave your missus alone with the lads,” the village drunk advises.

So we’ve got “rules” just made for breaking, and the scariest, least-hospitable locals invading their space and bringing to mind every nightmare anybody had engaging the Contractors from Hell.

The Whelans (Kristian Nairn, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, Chris Walley) are “English” bashing sociopaths, the lot of them.

But as least their patriarch insists everybody call him “Daddy.” He’s played by Colm Meaney, as if this Mark Stay/Jon Wright (who also directed) screenplay wasn’t menacing enough.

Much of what you expect comes to pass, but there is just enough misdirection thrown in to maintain a little novelty in the mashing up.

The threats are unnerving, the violence brutal and the Red Caps wee and scary cute and plentiful in this horrific lark of a thriller.

Our leads are believable as a couple, convincingly over-matched and just as convincing when they fight back.

And then there’s our Irish MVP, the durable character actor Meaney, who has been Irishing-up TV (“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”) and movies (“The Snapper,” “Con Air,” “Intermission,” “Layer Cake,” “Marlowe,“Pixie,”Seberg” ) for half a century, “fer feck’s sake.”

Meaney instantly amps up the threat level as this bluff, bullying patriarch, the kind who wants everybody to call him “Daddy” because that’s how this relationship is going to be — a “My word is law” thing.

“Unwelcome” may outstay its welcome, reaching its climax with the filmmakers unable to resist going for an anti-climax. One can only take the wee menaces so seriously, looking like “Harry Potter” extras without the budget for “Dobby” CGI.

But it’s fun, the kind of thriller tailor-made for crowd-sourced jolts and laughs. Miss it and there’ll be hell to pay, just you wait.

Rating: R for strong violence and gore, pervasive language, some drug use and sexual material

Cast: Hannah John-Kamen, Douglas Booth, Kristian Nairn, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, Chris Walley and Colm Meaney.

Credits: Directed by Jon Wright, scripted by Mark Stay and Jon Wright. A Well Go USA release in AMC cinemas, coming to Shudder.

Running time: 1:43


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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