I recently watched two horror movies of relatively recent vintage: The Unholy (2021) and Hereditary (2018).
What follows are two (very) brief reviews.
The Unholy is a film about a hearing-impaired teenage girl who appears to be channeling the Virgin Mary. What she is actually channeling, however, is not Mary, but a malevolent spiritual force.
This film, starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan (“Negan” on The Walking Dead) and newcomer Crickett Brown, was excellent.
Anyone familiar with Catholic-Protestant differences regarding saints and religious imagery will appreciate the “what if?” scenario here. This film explores a key question of the Reformation from a fully modern, supernatural perspective. (The film even quotes Martin Luther.)
I was raised Roman Catholic, and—with all due respect to the Protestants in the room—that’s the way I roll. No thank you, I am not interested in attending your non-denominational church. (But thanks, again, for the invitation.)
Nevertheless, I am also not above taking a critical approach to some aspects of my Roman Catholic faith. Roman Catholicism does, indeed, include a cult of saints, and a cult of the Virgin Mary. Protestants who point out the pagan similarities here are not completely in left field.
The Unholy is well-paced and entertaining. That said, this is not a movie for someone looking for a simple monster flick with jump scares. If you don’t like ideas in your horror, skip this one.
I would give The Unholy high marks for the acting, story, script, and concept. The special effects, however, were right out of the 1980s. The early 1980s.
The fake fire, in particular, looks like fire from a B-movie, circa 1983. Given everything else that the filmmakers did right, they shouldn’t have cut corners on the special effects. And they definitely did cut corners.
Grandma is dead, but grandma was a satanist. That’s the setup behind Hereditary.
The movie starts on the day of the grandmother’s funeral. The surviving family of four (the parents and two kids) slowly fall prey to a curse that involves (spoiler alert) a satanist plot.
Hereditary is a disturbing movie. I am by no means a sensitive viewer. But even I required a good 24 hours to fully purge this movie from my mind.
Hereditary contains plenty of otherworldly events and phenomena. But it also contains graphic and realistic depictions of extreme family turmoil, corpse mutilation, and (in one scene) the accidental beheading of a child.
(Yes, really. Graphic violence against children is a line that movies usually don’t cross; but this one did.)
Many horror movies take us to dark places. That is a part of the horror movie experience, and a part of the ride. The real problem with Hereditary is not its darkness, but its complete lack of redemption, or even a glimmer of hope. I won’t tell you what the ending is, but suffice it to say that this movie ends on a very down note.
Several of the characters in the movie are sympathetic. None of them, however, could be properly described as heroic, or even proactive. They all sort of drift along, waiting for the next bad thing to happen. And as noted above, plenty of bad things do happen.
Hereditary is a technically competent film. The movie was shot in Utah, and the movie makes good use of the inherent otherworldliness of the Utah landscape. Hereditary is well-paced, despite its length of more than two hours. You won’t be tempted to look at your phone while you’re watching it.
Nevertheless, I’m not sure that you will emerge from Hereditary with any new insights, or even any provocative questions. And while there are some creepy moments, Hereditary isn’t an especially terrifying movie. This is no thrill ride. Mostly, it is simply disturbing.
Anyway, those are two of the horror films that I’ve watched recently. In summary, I highly recommend The Unholy (with a minor qualification regarding the amateurish special effects). As for Hereditary, well…proceed with caution.