Watch the trailer for Unwelcome
How far would you go to protect your family? That’s the question at the heart of Unwelcome, a new creature feature from Jon Wright, the director of cult genre thrillers Grabbers and Robot Overlords - in UK cinemas from 27 January.
The family in question are Maya (Hannah John-Kamen) and Jamie (Douglas Booth), a young couple expecting their first child, who leap out of an urban nightmare frying pan into the fire of a new home in Ireland. Their dream home is soon under attack from an ancient malevolent presence lurking in the woods at the bottom of their garden.
The film began life with a conversation between Wright and his screenwriting collaborator Mark Stay. They were struggling with the dichotomy of what it means to be a pacifist in a time of threat.
“If our families, our children were at threat, we would do something violent to save them,” Wright tells Yahoo.
“The more we talked about it, the more we realised that we could potentially be extremely violent, because — as non-violent people — we’d want that violence to come to a very abrupt and fast conclusion. That contradiction we thought was really interesting.”
The source of the threat in Unwelcome is goblins, or more specifically Redcaps (and definitely NOT leprechauns, despite the setting). “This is an old myth and legend that you have in a lot of different cultures,” Wright explains. “It’s in Ireland but you also have it in England too. They’re goblins who dip their caps in the blood of their victims.
“We quite liked that because it went against the stereotypical leprechaun, or the idea of friendly garden gnomes. These are horrible goblins. They’re the violence of the story.”
Reuniting with the lauded Grabbers creature team including prosthetics by Shaune Harrison, creature designs by Paul Catling, and VFX supervisor Paddy Eason, Wright’s vision for Unwelcome is a thrill for fans of practical effects in an age of CG.
Here he breaks down the trailer exclusively for Yahoo.
“That’s very much a Shining reference, but only for the nerds,” Wright says of the opening shot of the trailer which mirrors the Torrance’s drive to the overlook at the start of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror classic.
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“But also yellow is the colour of cowardice, which is Maya’s colour. She has a yellow dress, they drive a yellow car…”
“The film is a fusion of big stages that we built in the UK, and Irish exteriors,” Wright tells us. “So that’s a house that we built, but it’s based on extensive research into that particular style of architecture that you get in rural Ireland which is a very definite look.”
“Because of Covid, all the companies that would normally build stages for gigs were unemployed, and we got one of those companies to take a piece of runway and put a massive gig stage on it. It was an absolutely giant stage. It was huge. Way bigger than we probably would normally have been able to afford.”
The young couple
“They’re a fish out of water,” says Wright. “They wouldn’t normally have taken such a big leap to move to the middle of nowhere, but they have a violent encounter at the very beginning of the movie. It’s an extremely violent encounter that terrifies them so much that when the opportunity to move to this house that Jamie inherits from his aunt comes up, they take it.
“For the most part everybody in the village is lovely to them and very welcoming and they have a lovely time, but they fall in with a family that they shouldn’t be having any dealing with. And it’s a quite dangerous family.”
“Hannah has really impressed me in this film,” says Wright. “I knew she was a good actor but she really exceeded my expectations with this film. I think she’s absolutely amazing in it.
“It’s interesting because it is a horror movie but within that she gives a very nuanced, layered, interesting performance.”
Rising star Hannah John-Kamen (Ant-Man and The Wasp, SAS Red Notice) is Maya, a heavily pregnant woman who comes under increasing threat from the Redcaps as the movie goes on.
“She’s very near to term, she’s not far from giving birth when they arrive in Ireland. So that’s a part of it: ‘what will I do to take care of my unborn child?’”
“There were two things that we wanted to show [in Unwelcome] that we felt you didn’t see very often in movies, and one was a woman who was extremely pregnant, particularly as the heroine.”
“The other thing is that Douglas Booth plays a coward,” adds the director. “As a man, as an actor, he’s been very courageous really because he plays the truth of what it is to be a coward.
“What you see endlessly in movies, particularly now we’re in the superhero phase, you see people stepping up to the challenge and saying ‘bring it on’ and being very stoic and tough in the face of aggression. What you don’t see is, which is more like real life, which is people completely panicking and losing their s*** and not being able to cope when they’re confronted with violence. And that’s essentially what happens to Doug’s character. He gets very scared.
“And Doug plays the truth of that very honestly and realistically. He’s got the looks of a leading man but he’s got the soul of a character actor.”
As the trailer shows, the house the couple inherits needs some work and so the couple recruit a local roughneck family to help with the repairs. However, their relationship sours, adding fuel to the fire.
“Colm [Meaney] is a builder and the patriarch of this dysfunctional family, and Colm really looks the part to me,” says Wright. “He was the top of a pretty short list of people who I thought would be believable in this role. He brings the gravitas. He’s playing an out and out villain as well. He’s normally quite charming and likeable.”
Only glimpsed briefly in the trailer, the Redcaps are the cause of the chaos at the heart of Unwelcome. A primeval and malevolent force that begins to wreak havoc on the young family. Like Gremlins, which is an obvious influence on the film, the creatures have been realised practically with a combination of puppetry and visual effects, to make them more viscerally terrifying.
“Sometimes in movies nowadays, creatures are done in full CG, and when you see them running about and jumping, you can see that the gravity isn’t quite right, and they sometimes just don’t seem quite right,” Wright diplomatically explains.
“The original pitch when we took the movie out was a modern revision of Gremlins meets Straw Dogs. So Gremlins was very much in my thoughts. But the Redcaps take a gleeful pleasure in committing acts of violence. They’re unapologetic about it. They don’t have consciences about it. It’s part of their culture, it’s what they do.
"Particularly in the final third of the film, the Redcaps are unleashed. It all gets very crazy and intense. Something people have said to me when they’ve seen the film — in a positive way — ‘I like it, but my god it’s so violent!’
"But in a fun rollercoaster-ish way!"
Sounds like a perfect combination in our books.
Unwelcome is in cinemas from 27 January.