By Ambrose Rucker, Christendom College
On March eighth, Sony announced that its new movie, The Unholy, would be released on Good Friday. This date was chosen deliberately as a direct contrast to the sacredness of the Triduum weekend. The movie’s own website points out: “On the holiest weekend of the year comes ‘The Unholy.’” The plot, as we know from the trailer and released synopsis is based on a young half-deaf girl who is supposedly visited by the Virgin Mary, and afterwards is able to hear perfectly and perform miracles at will. As a result, she gathers a worldwide following and a retired journalist decides to do a story on the girl to try to revisit his career.
However, terrifying events occur with increasing frequency, and the journalist begins to wonder if the events and miracles are the work of the Virgin Mary or a darker power. The trailer shows a repetition of a classic Catholic horror film – shadowy nuns, corrupt and unfaithful priests, burning crosses and more. What stands out is the main theme of portrayal of the Mother of God in various forms of evil with bleeding Virgin statues, corrupted and disintegrating holy images of Mary and the central protagonist of a demon in the form of a dark, burning and horrifying Virgin Mary. In this movie, we see the most common anti-Catholic stereotypes and a dangerous pandering to the bloating of the power of Satan and his demons. In this article, I wish to address its wrong Catholic stereotypes, the dangerous and blasphemous ideas it presents, and how to intelligently warn a friend against this movie.
First, there seems to be some idea in Hollywood that the vast majority of Catholic priests are unfaithful spineless cowards who are ready and willing to drop their faith at a moment’s notice and break into pieces at the first sign of the demonic. In the trailer for this movie, we see a priest who immediately falls under the spell of the girl, takes it as fact that she was visited by the Virgin Mary and refuses to be dissuaded until he comes face to face with the demon itself. This common portrayal of priests is a gross exaggeration and in almost every case proven untrue. While those few unworthy men who renounce their faith publicly, do great scandal to the Church and give Catholicism a bad name are given all the media attention, the massive majority of priests are good faithful Catholics who give glory to God every day and lead their flock with grace. The portrayal of the Catholic priest as unfaithful, an abuser, or a coward is nothing new for horror movies; the fact that it is still used and widely believed is part of the anti-Catholic agenda of Hollywood. In a statistic from the John Jay report dealing with the sexual abuse scandals in the Church, we see that despite all the media attention only 4% of all clergy in the United States had sexual abuse accusations against them in the years 1950-2010. While that is still too many priests, it is far from the massive scope of Hollywood portrayal that if you run into a priest, he almost certainly has problems. Priests are but men, and as such are not perfect, and there are still those who should not have made it through the rigorous screening of seminary, but that does not mean you can write off every priest you meet as unfaithful or an abuser or both.
The second stereotype is the small-town Catholic parish that is superstitious, full of lax Catholics and is easily taken over by a demon. We see this happen verbatim in the trailer of the movie. I do not know why but Hollywood seems to think that isolated Catholic parishes are just apples to be picked by demons. The trope of a church being possessed with imagery of the sanctuary burning, pentagrams on the walls and statues of the Holy Family contorted and twisted seems to be fairly common if you are a backwoods Catholic church. Let me make something clear – demons know more about Christ, the resurrection, and the Church than we ever will. By their sin they have turned away from God in every way, and as such all of creation is painful to them as everything was created by the God they betrayed. But by the passion and death of Jesus Christ the power of Satan and the demons is forever broken! The gates of Hell were shattered by the resurrection of Jesus and no demon could stand before Him!
Further, we see in exorcisms that the Eucharist is a key component in the expulsion of the demon from a body. Thus, to believe that any demon could take control of a church, in a building that is consecrated to God with the Holy Eucharist in the sanctuary, and every Mass turned into a representation of heaven, is absolutely foolish. Just by the fact of the Eucharist being present no demon could stand being inside a church: the very presence of Jesus is so repulsive to them; it is akin to physical pain. In order for a demon to take control of a church it would be more trouble than it is worth as the church would practically have to be reduced to a normal building in order for the demon to enter.
This movie both brings up a very common stereotype and a highly dangerous idea in its use of the Virgin Mary. It is incredibly obvious that the movie is appealing to the idea of Catholics worshipping Mary. This is a belief that many Christian sects, other religions, and the secular world all share about Catholics. Now I could go into detail giving all the reasons of how we do not worship Mary, but I shall keep it simple. When the Church teaches us to pray to the Virgin Mary, and saints like St. Louis de Monfort say things like “we must make a gift of ourselves, entirely (body, soul, our exterior goods, and our interior spiritual goods) to Our Lady,” we are not putting Mary as equal to God, nor are we only addressing her in our worship.
The whole point is to ask for Mary’s intercession on our behalf to her Son Jesus; as the saying goes, “to Jesus through Mary.” We are not just praying to Mary; we are in a sense praying with Mary to God and asking her help in our petitions to God. By His words on the cross to St. John the apostle, Jesus gave us the gift of His Mother Mary as the mother of humanity, and as such we hold her in such high esteem as she not only gave birth to our Lord and Savior but is our Mother in every sense of the word, and it is common throughout history in all civilizations that one’s Mother is given high honor and praise. In the trailer, we see the girl convincing her followers to “believe and worship Mary” and many people are seen to obey, all over the world bowing down to statues of the Virgin Mary. As I see it, it is attempting to show that it is second nature for Catholics to worship Mary and thus we see people fall for the girl’s preaching so easily.
This is a very wrong and very dangerous idea because the stereotype of Catholics worshiping Mary is already very strong today, and many lax Catholics I have personally experienced have given the apparent worship of Mary as their reason for leaving the Church. It is an attention-grabbing scheme by the makers of the movie to simultaneously appeal to the Christian sects who believe Catholics worship Mary and attempt to shake the faith of lax Catholics who might see the movie. Finally, by making this demon in the form of Mary, the movie is simply stoking the already existing stereotype and thus is not giving us anything new or exciting; it is just another anti-Catholic horror film that seizes on all the common false ideas about the Faith.
In my opinion, all those Catholics who are strong in their faith are never going to see this movie, but their Christian and lax Catholic friends might and that is why I am going to give you some things to say to them to explain the theological fallacies and dissuade them from watching the movie. First of all, the movie is trying to show that this supposed Marian apparition is able to gain such a massive growing in such a short time. Explain to your friend that there have been many false apparitions in the past and that the Church has very clear criteria for judging an apparition to be real or not. There is no way any apparition would be able to gain so many followers before the local bishop or Vatican would intercede and call it out as fake and demonic inspired. Secondly, the anti-Marian theme is strong, and you will need to address that. Everything that I mentioned above when talking about Mary is a good place to start but if you want to draw them into a deeper conversation, research the Church Fathers, especially Augustine. Lastly, point out to your friend the obvious stereotypes and tropes in the movie. It is not giving us some new horror movie; it is simply a classic mashing of every anti-Catholic Hollywood joke that we have seen time and time again.
On the whole I do not expect it to be a good movie even by technical standards. With a whooping 33% score from Rotten Tomatoes, 5/10 from IGN and an article from the website film.avculb.com, titled “Holy Crap, The Unholy is a bore”, I am not too worried about the movie’s impact lasting too long. However, the conversations it will inspire will last much longer than the movie’s memory, and as Catholics we must do what we can to evangelize and protect our Faith and Our Lady from such false messages as The Unholy presents to us.
 Joblo (2021). The Unholy: Sony sets new horror film for Easter weekend. https://www.joblo.com/movie-news/the-unholy-sony-horror-film-easter-weekend
 Sony Pictures (2021). The Unholy. https://www.sonypictures.com/movies/theunholy
 USCCB. (2019). The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010.