Interlacing an investigative thriller with religious horror turns out to be barely taut and mostly timid in relying on tired tropes.
The Unholy stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan (remembered from pics like Watchmen and The Losers through his career resurgence has been Negan in AMC’s The Waling Dead) in an ensemble that includes Cary Elwes and Katie Aselton.
Scenarist turned filmmaker Evan Spiliotopoulos works plenty of hokey activity in an adaptation of the supernatural novel “Shrine.” An attempt at something disturbing that becomes reminiscent in part of a spinoff like The Nun or The Exorcist involves a foreshadowing 1845 set prologue leading to a complicity when moving to the present.
Morgan’s very boozy, cynical Gerry Fenn is a crestfallen reporter who ends up at the right place at the right time. In Quaint Branfield, Massachusetts when it comes to a petrified oak tree and a grungy doll with a porcelain head while researching a story about a demonically cow.
The arc of a corruptible fellow will be completed by the deal/mute Alice (Cricket Brown) who has interacted with that whispering oak and has visions of a ‘Lady’ that ends up giving a voice to the voiceless. Besides healing a boy with muscular dystrophy, Aselton’s local physician will come around to Fenn in explaining aspects of Alice’s gifts. Her wheezing uncle Fr. Hagan (William Sadler) of the local parish, his niece from the church, ‘when God builds a church the devil builds a chapel next door.’
An idea of an alternate ‘Lourdes’ comes into view as Fenn gets his exclusive from the approval at the church in the case of a second chance being deserved. Diego Morgado and Elwes are contrasting secondary characters, a debunker and an exploitative bishop hardly nailing the Beantown accent.
Flocking to witness the special visitations is part of the frame that Alice craves as a lack of ingenuity shows in how jump scares occurs in tandem with practical and digitized effects. What Feen locates in his search when not interviewing Alice can end up more risible than chilling. Especially when with Dr. Gases.
Still, dripping pages in a Bible or sanguine statues may prompt a little hosanna but even with a precocious Brown and Morgan’s notable expressions and presence too much mumbo jumbo from prayer to redemption makes a hesitant, incurious Sam Rami production a cinematic drag to hell.