This article contains major Unwelcome spoilers.
British horror Unwelcome sees city couple Maya (Hannah-John Kamen) and Jamie (Douglas Booth) move to Ireland after a horrific home invasion leaves them shaken. But the new rural home isn’t the peaceful idyll they had hoped for, with a baby on the way. If the violent local family hired to do some building work weren’t enough, they also have murderous Redcaps to deal with. It’s a lot.
“It started originally from a conversation I had with Mark Stay, who wrote the film,” says director Jon Wright. “We were kind of almost making fun of each other, and making fun of ourselves really about what cowards we were, and how, if we were ever confronted with physical violence, how frightening we found it, and how useless we were at fighting. We were saying that being a pacifist is really a kind of a nice way of saying you’re a coward.”
He says from there they developed the characters of Maya and Jamie – metropolitan, liberal, urban pacifist, Londoners who are very uncomfortable with violence, “and we push them to the point where they have to deal with their own violence. And that’s kind of what the premise of the movie is.”
What would push people like that to act violently? Well that’s where the ending of the film takes us – we break down what goes down and what it means.
What are Redcaps and what do they do?
The violent little goblins in the movie, which must be fed to avoid an attack, are lifted from folklore. They are murderous mini-people who carry pikes and like to dip their caps in the blood of their victims.
“I was leaning towards the fantastical, I don’t want to do the kind of kitchen sink version of this story. I want to do a version where the screen is a window into a world that you’ve never really seen before,” says Wright.
“What appealed to me about them was that they felt like the antithesis of leprechauns. Leprechauns are the sort of Irish cliche that all Irish people really can’t stand. They felt much nastier than that. They sounded like they enjoyed violence. I think when you watch a movie you might really enjoy that sort of freedom and glee because it’s goblin gnomes. It’s not somebody in your living room”.
In the movie Jamie and Maya are told by Niamh (Niamh Cusack) that they must leave a bit of liver out every night for the Recaps who live in the garden they have inherited from Jamie’s late aunt Maeve. Niamh also says that Maeve had a daughter who was taken by the Recaps as part of a deal to save the life of the girl’s father.
The Redcaps kill Eoin – the abused son of ‘Daddy’ Whelan (Colm McCarthy) when he attacks Maya. Later Maya makes a deal with the Recaps after the rest of the Whelan family (including Derry Girls’ Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) put the couple under siege.
What happened to Maeve’s child?
When the Recaps take Maya and Jamie’s baby as payment for their help fighting off the Whelans, Maya follows them to the shine behind their house. There she finds a wizened and deranged old human woman living with the miniature maniacs – it’s the missing child now grown, who has been kept by the Redcaps.
Finally pushed to her limit, Maya attacks, killing a Redcap and the old woman to get her child back (this is the point at which lefty pacifist Maya breaks).
Maya becomes the new Queen of the Redcaps
Maya’s maternal instinct has turned her feral and the Redcaps are delighted! They cover her with blood and bone and dance around her chanting “Mother Redcap!”
“She’s embraced and understands her capacity for violence,” Wright explains. “They’re part of her clan. And, and if you look very carefully you’ll see that one of the Redcaps, the older guy with the beard, stops the others from pushing through into the cave, when she’s attacking because they want a new queen. They realized their old queen is knocking on death’s door, and she’s maybe not very good for the clan. And so they embrace having this new leader.”
A happy ending or not?
Write explains that he wanted to make it very clear that Jamie is on board with Maya becoming the new Queen of the Redcaps, and that this is something of a happy ending for the family. Indeed Jamie is initially shocked but eventually smiles.
“He realizes that she’s found a kind of freedom, and she’s gonna let go of her anxieties. And she’s not going to be scared of violent people anymore,” Wright explains.
In fact, Wright says, they originally had plans to add an additional scene to the end.
By the end Jamie has come to accept that he is not the butch macho man that he has tried to be and that Maya is the stronger of the two. At one point the plan was to add a sequence where Jamie answers the door in a pinafore to some “rough lads” who are selling trinkets, and calls Maya to come and talk to them.
“At the end he’s accepted his role in life as a beta male. He tried his damnedest to become an alpha male, and he pushed and pushed. And it’s just not him.
“He realizes that when he tries to be violent, he just can’t he can’t go there. It’s just not in his nature. He sort of has a nervous breakdown. You see a lot of movies nowadays, where people step up to the plate when the chips are down. They’re the hero of the hour. I think our version of what happens when somebody’s in fear of their life is probably in reality, what happens a lot more often.”
Could there be a sequel?
As ever, it would depend on how well the film does, but Wright says he definitely has the appetite for a sequel. The slight issue, he says, is that the set of the house, which was enormous so the Recaps could be played by actors (they shot full size actors with masks, on double height sets) is no more. However, he has a plan.
“There’s a race of Irish giants called the Fomorians which come out of the sea. And one of the things that I’ve realized about building double height sets is it’s much cheaper to do giants because the sets are half size. So we had an idea, wouldn’t it be fun to see giants breaking into a house and sort of wedging themselves through doorways like Alice in Wonderland? And then fighting people who are a quarter of their size. That might be fun. And also, Daddy Whelan has a brother in America who stands to inherit Daddy Whelan’s fortune if he can only prove that Daddy Whelan met an untimely end… I think we’ve got a story so let’s see if people enjoy the movie.”
Unwelcome opens in theaters in the US on March 10. You can download and keep the movie on digital now.