A pair of Irish monster movies swing for gore and gáire to contrasting results this month.
Unwelcome takes too long to grab us
Director: Jon Wright Starring: Hannah John-Kamen, Douglas Booth, Colm Meaney, Jamie Lee O’Donnell, Chris Walley, Kristian Nairn Running Time: 104 minutes
Describing the plot of Unwelcome, Jon Wright’s long-cooking follow up to madcap creature feature Grabbers, the director has called it “Straw Dogs meets Gremlins”. An eclectic mix that could make for a good time, but unfortunately the film only shows flashes of that madness. It also has an issue with being a little too column A and not enough column B, an odd and unsatisfying choice for a movie about killer redcaps.
Hannah John-Kamen and Douglas Booth play Maya and Jamie, who move to a fixer-upper home in Ireland after Jamie’s aunt leaves it in her will. They’re determined to recover emotionally and raise their due baby in a safe environment after suffering a violent crime in London. The film opens with this, a fraught and frightening scene that makes it easy to understand and root for the couple but does kick things off on an ominously dour note. Trying to fit into small town Irish life, Maya tries to make sense of their neighbour’s request that they love a blood offering out for the redcaps, the little people who live in the forest beyond their new home’s garden. Jamie struggles to assert himself in the imposing presence of the family of builders they hire to fix up their home.
The Whelan family and their intrusions to Maya and Jamie’s lives form the bulk of Unwelcome’s story, the silly and supernatural elements moving in the background at a glacial pace of setup while class and culture tensions play at seriously up front. Uncouth and unkind, the Whelan’s leer and sneer at Maya and Jamie, take nothing seriously and seem to leave their home in worse condition after every day’s work. It’s a charismatic and odd ensemble, with Derry Girls Jamie Lee O’Donnell, The Young Offenders Chris Walley and Game of Thrones Kristian Nairn the kids of intimidating patriarch Colm Meaney, capably selling the bluster and bullshit of a cowboy builder. He insists on being called Daddy and lights cigars with a molotov cocktail, and is entertainingly committed throughout. Though uncomfortably coded as Travellers and in Nairn’s case, having an Intellectual Disability, the Whelan’s set up, at length, interesting ideas about interloping English, the dynamic between masculinity and self-security and more.
But wasn’t this a horror comedy about goblins? There’s an uncertainty in how Unwelcome shows its little people, an expertly crafted but undoubtedly silly visual. The broader chaos they sow is just at odds with the other sides of this story, Straw Dogs and Gremlins being a less cohesive combo the more scrutiny it receives. It’s admirably ambitious, but you can absolutely see why this film was a hard sell for a long time. Getting into the finale, it finally springs to life, it’s fun to watch the redcaps spill red and the plot go fully off the rails, finally feeling like the bonkers VHS deep dives that inspire Wright. It’s just a shame they aren’t around longer, the title short for these creatures understaying their welcome.(2.5 / 5)
But we love the neckkkkk of Let the Wrong One In
Director: Conor McMahon Starring: Karl Rice, Eoin Duffy, Anthony Stewart Head, Hilda Fay, Louise McCann Running Time: 96 minutes
From the Hammer Horror-esque opening titles, to an establishing shot labelled as ‘Transylvania’ when it is very obviously Dublin, Let the Wrong One In is a film as averse to taking itself seriously as vampires are to garlic (or in this movies’ case, garlic chips). Conor McMahon’s bleedin’ deadly vampire comedy tosses out gags at pace and though the film in blunter than any stake, it still can find its way to the heart.
Karl Rice from Sing Street is 16 year old Matt, who lets his black sheep older brother Deco into the family gaff against his ma’s orders, only to find that Deco is in a bad way. He’s been turned into a vampire. A hen night in Transylvania has gone horribly wrong and now the huns are staking Dublin’s nightlife, or what’s left of it and while Deco is their latest victim, a vampire hunter and his connected network of Dublin taxi drivers are tracking Deco down to make him their, more permanent, next victim. Deco has always taken meek Matt’s presence to lean on for granted, but when Buffy’s Anthony Stewart Head appears at their door swinging stakes, the young fella has a choice to make: stick his neck out to save his sibling, or take him out himself and become a vampire hunter before all of Dublin is sucked dry?
A good horror comedy always has its creator’s affection for the horror genre shine through, but the best part of Let The Wrong One In is also the clear love on display for its setting and characters. It’s got a Very Dublin sense of humour in the best way, with the boys’ ma cutting through Deco with blunt insults, little girls on the estate road talking back, and accents that might require subtitles for international viewers. It has been compared to The Young Offenders, but there’s a good bit of Adam & Paul in the DNA, and not just because it’s set in the city. Deco is a bit of a tragicomic figure, hapless and written off by those closest to him. There’s laughs to be had as he gradually find he might actually be better off undead, but the brothers’ relationship, and the tension hanging over knowing how many times Deco has his ma’s heart broken, hits poignantly even among the lowbrow bits. Despite Anthony Stewart Head’s dire pleas and Cushing tribute act, the tension isn’t if Matt will kill his brother, but more specifically if he will decide that he’s better off without Deco in his life. It’s a story that isn’t taking itself seriously, except that it is, and it’s a balance better struck than in Unwelcome.
But it is, thankfully, funny. Karl and Deco make for a good double act, especially when the older brother is badly and barely struggling against his instrincts to bite. Head seems like a straight man at the start, but a running gag about his character’s dorky love of trains lets him use his own comedic muscles and also gives his character a bit of shading, while the Hen Party vamps appropriately. Some might find the performances too big, but they work, and McMahon throws in mad special effects – over pumping blood here, defiantly dodgy bat work there – to keep things varied and energised. It throws a lot at the wall but plenty sticks and it’s entertaingly audacious. Sweet, silly, savage, Let The Wrong One In is one for the invite list.(3.5 / 5)