The thinnest of supernatural motivations unleashes a hokey digital creation masquerading as a terrible cursed being in The Unholy, a tonally confused and utterly generic light-and-sound show that offers nothing we haven’t seen before and doesn’t have a single thought in its head. It does, however, have a lot of exposition to impart about its choice of religiously themed menace in between sequences of would-be frights that are undone by a lack of craft or conviction.

Gerry Fenn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is an investigative reporter of dubious skill, specializing in the supernatural. His work has certainly thrown open the door on a lot of stories in the past, but writer/director Evan Spiliotopoulos doesn’t make Fenn seem at all sympathetic. Fenn’s old boss (Christine Adams) still considers their relationship and arrangement to be one of estrangement after he falsified reporting on a story some months ago. It’s hard to blame her, then, for the skepticism toward the latest story upon which Fenn has stumbled.

While investigating a local yokel worried about whether his cows have been tampered with in any way that might suggest the occult is at work, Fenn stumbles upon an aged doll at the base of a nearby tree. It seems that the land on which that citizen’s farm was built had been the site of a sacrifice in the 1840s (a tag on the doll ominously reads “February 31st” of 1845, but the can of worms opened by that phrase is never brought up again).

At the same time, a mystery develops. Alice (Cricket Brown, whose eerily calm performance is the movie’s only really positive attribute), a teenager from this small town, is suddenly able to speak and hear, despite a medical condition from birth that has left her both deaf and mute. Moreover, she has gained the ability to heal other people, such as a boy whose muscular dystrophy and current existence in a wheelchair comes to an end in a scene straight out of a Biblical passage.

The Pope declares the event a miracle. Fenn, a lapsed Catholic, and a doctor played by Katie Aselton have their doubts, especially when Father Hagan (William Sadler), who has been something of a father figure for Alice, is healed of his lung cancer and almost immediately dies under suspicious circumstances. We know the truth, of course ― that a malevolent spirit called “The Lady” has taken hold of Alice, seemingly “curing” her disabilities for the exact duration of the possession, and is exacting vengeance upon those who might threaten her bloodline. Bishop Gyles (Cary Elwes, speaking in a bizarre dialect that seems caught between the Northeastern United States and its Deep South) and Monsignor Delgarde (Diogo Morgado) want to bury the newsworthiness of this story, which spreads like wildfire once the press gets wind.

Unfortunately, any human element of this story is drowned in the spectacle of Spiliotopoulos’ intentions, which are to frighten the audience as much as possible with the image of the specter itself. It doesn’t work. Even as the Lady has been brought to life via a combination of digital and practical effects and a stunt performer, the design only comes across as silly. The rest of The Unholy is pretty silly, too, replacing genuine horror with a lot of commotion and jump scares.

Pretty silly, replacing genuine horror with a lot of commotion and jump scares.
30 %
Scary Dull
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