Not the Leprechauns This Time. It’d Be Goblins that “Unwelcome” You!
Trying desperately to become pregnant for some time, Jamie and Maya celebrate the news of learning they’re expecting but their jovial rejoice is cut short when three thugs break into their city apartment home, nearly bringing an end to their lives and the baby. When Jamie’s great aunt Maeve wills him a rural cottage in Ireland, the married couple jump at the chance to start afresh away from the urban chaos and the trauma in hopes for a peaceful life with their child. The friendly village residents take in Jamie and Maya unconditionally but one stipulation is highly encouraged to be met if living at great aunt Maeve’s cottage: they must leave out a blood offering for the little people, the Redcaps, of the forest butted up against their home. Just happy to be out of the city, Jamie and Maya shrug off what they believe to be folkloric wives tales of old Ireland and on such short notice, they hire Mr. Whelan and his children, who come with an unfavorable village reputation, to do much-needed repairs around the house. When dealings with the Whelan clan go violently sideways, Maya invokes superstitious belief to draw the Repcaps out of hiding and implore their murderous mischievousness for dire neighborly assistance.
Welcome to the “Unwelcome!” Pint-sized evil continues to be mondo popular around the world, especially in the Full Moon empire that’s built a kingdom off the backs of supernatural ankle biters. However, “Unwelcome” is not a Charles Band production that’s rushed straight through to a fast-tracked, direct-to-video release of shoddy, schlocky proportions. Instead, this release comes from overseas, the UK specifically, with some quality production footing that lands the 2023 released film into a limited theatrical run before hitting the home entertainment market. Behind the film is Jon Wright, director of dark humored revenge against high school bullies in the “Tormented,” who directs and co-writes “Unwelcome’s” grim fairytale-like narrative of personal growth, inner fight, and underfoot goblins gone wild with Mark Stay, reuniting with Wright for the first time since their script collaboration on the 2014 automaton invasion epic, “Robot Overlords.” Under the once working title of “The Little People,” “Unwelcome” is a production of the Yorkshire based Tempo Productions Limited, with cofounders by Jo Bamford and Piers Tempest as executive producer and producer, and the private equity investment group, Ingenious Media, with producer Peter Touche along with Warner Bros. and Well Go USA Entertainment distributing.
“Unwelcome” has such unusual casting in a good way. The entire Whelan clan consists of actors plucked from successful, multi-seasonal television shows that have essentially shaped their careers from their well-known, fan-adored roles, but the unintended adverse effect in such triumph stamina is being recognized only for that performance. In my mind, Colm Meaney will forever be embedded in my hippocampus as Engineer Chief Miles O’Brien from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” “Con Air,” “Under Siege,” and even as a British Airways pilot doomed for landing in “Die Hard 2,” Chief O’Brien, I mean Colm Meaney, is still in space tinkering with transporter buffers. Here in “Unwelcome,” Meany is Daddy, aka Mr. Whelan, a rough around the edge contractor who beats his kids, let them get away with whatever they please, and has a real notoriety around town. When I say kids, I mean grown adults stuck in Daddy’s hooligan wake and are played by more outstanding and familiar faces from Ireland, such as Hodor from “Game of Thrones,” Kristian Naim, Netflix’s “Derry Girls’s” Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, and the “1917” actor and upcoming principals of “Last Voyage of the Demeter,” Chris Walley, make up the trio of terribly laid construction workers who have really no business being around a hammer, a ladder, or anybody’s valuables. That brings me to “Unwelcome’s” lead actors as the scarred couple who hires out Whelan’s band of delinquent spawns to do the handiwork repairs. I realize Wright and Stay wrote Douglas Booth (“Pride, Prejudice, & Zombies”) to be an overly optimistic and fairly useless good guy with Jamie, but the insecurities are just ostentatiously oozing out of the husband without a clue. Jamie’s arc also doesn’t quite flesh out by the end of the film as he’s blocked by the baby mama instincts of Maya, played by “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City’s” Hannah John-Kamen, with an unspoken I’ll-do-it-my-damn-self attitude that sends the narrative into a knife-brandishing gob of Redcaps eager to do her bidding for an unfavorable exchange. Maya sacrifices all for a good man with good intentions who can’t do diddlysquat to save her and, in the end, that doesn’t seem balanced for this ferocious fairytale.
If there is one aspect, above all us, to note about “Unwelcome’s” shin kicking goblins as a takeaway is that the rambunctious and ravenous Redcaps are not computer generated, are not puppets, and are not even animatronics. Actors and stuntmen fill those small shows with a little help of disproportionate movie magic, heeding to the ways of a lost art in miniaturizing actors, such as in “Willow” or “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” and touching up with some CGI on the tangible face molds for a layered composition that’s super fun to see come to life on screen. Unfortunately, the Redcaps make a late appearance into a yarn unspooled with mostly the pent up pile of frustrations of Jamie and Maya as an unlucky couple without a chance of peace in the world. Trouble finds them wherever they go in what’s essentially a trade for city thugs for unfriendly country versions of the same type of ill-mannered. “Unwelcome” plays very much into it’s title that no place feels welcoming for a couple on the verge of the already daunting premise of parenthood life and everything appears now alien as the world is being upended by concessions for your child in what has turned terrifying in what was supposed to be a warm, welcoming of a new adventure. That’s the sensation setup for the pair who trust dip into trusting superstitions and magical beings to be their guardians. Folklore then takes over; its has, in fact, been welcomed to save the day no matter how maligned the backstories. Wright and cinematographer Hamish Doyne-Ditmas do, in fact, construct an ocular stage crafted out of an ethereal red and yellow fire lit sky with an overall color theory toned to contrast as a mystical storybook set in what is usually flush with greenery around an Irish village, reminiscent of late 70s-early 80’s European horror sets built to detailed scale, built with vibrant backlighting, and yet built to feel distant, apprehensively off, and strange like another world, a Redcap ecosphere. “Unwelcome’s” ending also pulls from that unabashed time to be creatively mad in an innately mad universe with an unexpected Redcap reason that doesn’t clarify so much their hunger for blood offers, which the diet includes raw store-bought meat and the frothy flesh of felonious individuals, but better explains their twisted promises and intentions for their knife-jabbing services rendered.
With Goblins, there’s always a price to pay but for the Blu-ray release of “Unwelcome,” the price is worth the admission. The single-layered, AVC encoded, high-definition 1080p Well Go USA Entertainment release presents the film in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Slightly squeeze onto a BD25, there’s some minor irregular compression patches that degrade solid darker colors and the image loses a bit of sharpness in the background – you can see an example when the Redcaps pop up out of the keep tower appearing more like moving globules than well-defined humanoids. Goblin facial features and skin and clothes textures have tactile appeal during closeups with the same being said with the cast in their natural color tones. Computer-generated facial movements have seamless pertinence to the surrounding action and the motion of the Goblin actors themselves with layering of frames looking clean to create their smallness around principal characters. The English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix maintains a stout dialogue track but deploys no depth into recordings resulting in all the dialogue tracks to be at the forefront, even when characters are in the background in the scene. The weird spatiality with the dialogue doesn’t translate over to ambient noise as those tracks are well designed into the scheme with levels of depth that add richness to the storybook atmospherics. English SDH are optionally available. Bonus features include a behind-the-scenes cast and crew interviews discussing their time forming the idea and working on the project, a making the Redcaps segment with special effects supervisor Shaune Harrison (“Nightbreed,” “Attack of the Adult Babies”) discussing the step-be-step process of bringing these little devils to life, including showcasing their head and body molds, and the theatrical trailer. The physical property comes in a standard Blu-ray snapper with latch with one-sided cover art of a knife-out Goblin starring up at the new mistress of the house. Inside, a single-leaf advert of Well Go USA films and the disc pressed art with a blue-graded Goblin looking menacing makeup the inner contents. “Unwelcome” runs at 101 minutes, is rated R for strong violence and gore, pervasive language, some drug use, and sexual material. From an ironic perspective, “Unwelcome” uses the mythological mischievous of Goblins as a gas pedal accelerator to mature a pair of genteel gulls faced with a parlous reality and to be factotum in life in general told inside in the linings of a dark and gory fairytale universe.