Friday, September 21, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #38: Unholy (2007)

Unholy is a science fiction mind-bender with a dash of horror which bursts at the seams with ideas. A mad mix of pending insanity, Nazis, necromancy, and grief. Lead character Martha (Adrienne Barbeau) has already lost her husband and witnesses the suicide of her daughter, Hope. In dealing with the loss, Martha and her somewhat estranged, pothead son Lucas (Nicholas Brendon) try to chase down what drove Hope to kill herself. It's not a difficult journey, since the next door neighbor happens to be married to a conspiracy-minded madwoman who sends them down a conspiracy rabbit-hole.

Encountering nightmares and time-bending craziness, Martha and Lucas get into situations that quickly begin to defy all suspended belief and require Olympian leaps of logic. While low budget, Unholy is stuffed to the gills with plot and ideas. The execution suffers from the budget, but it wins some audience favor for the effort. Choppy story structure and dream logic don't help the story make sense, but effectively keep audience and characters off-balance. You just have to assume it'll all come together... but does it?

Director Darryl Goldberg and writer Sam Freeman show great skill but the jumble of nightmares, Nazi brainwashing, and mysticism may be too much to ask of an audience in the end. There's also a last-act twist that you'll either buy into or smack your head over. Where you end isn't the journey expected after the strong start but, oh, what a start...

What keeps Unholy from flying completely off the rails is an extremely impressive central performance by Adrienne Barbeau. While "giving grieving mother realness*" playing a woman who may be going mad, she's always believable when stumbling through a plot that could have been cobbled together from chunks of old X-Files episodes. For all the attention she's gotten throughout her career for her impressive figure, strong looks, and iconic, bad-ass character parts, you might not be aware just how good an actress she is. Nicholas Brendon, best known from Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, looks like he could be her son, and holds his own even when the proceedings get really weird. He not well served by always being presented to look like death warmed-over. In the end, the material's plot points seem secondary to its twisty structure, but the strong central performance makes this film. While interesting but perhaps unsatisfying for horror and sci-fi genre fans, this is a must for anyone who appreciates Barbeau.

*(what can I say, I got a little obsessed with that phrase from getting sucked into a marathon watching of Rupaul's Drag Race...)

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