Catholic Response to The Unholy

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By Ambrose Rucker, Christendom College

On March eighth, Sony announced that its new movie, The Unholy, would be released on Good Friday.[1] 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.’”[2] 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.[3] 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, 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.

[1] Joblo (2021). The Unholy: Sony sets new horror film for Easter weekend.

[2] Sony Pictures (2021). The Unholy.

[3] USCCB. (2019). The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010.

10 Responses

  1. Ironically, there’s an old movie with the same title “The Unholy” (1988), with actor Ben Cross (Assisi Underground) in which he plays a brave Catholic priest who battles a demon who has targeted his parish. I think it’s no accident that Sony is using a similar title for an anti-Catholic film. The picture of the woman in the article is from the 1988 movie, if I remember correctly.

  2. The bible tells us that When Jesus mother and brothers and sisters were looking for him he replied who is my mother brother and sister but the one who does the will of my Father is my Mother Brother and Sister. So don’t make up lies when Jesus gave mary to John was because his brothers and sisters did not believe in him and yes Jesus did have blood brother and sisters the bible tells us. So when you say that catholics dont worship mary you are lying they do. I was once a catholic and I thank God and God alone for saving me from this wicked cult. You bow to mary you kneel to mary and you pray to mary that is an act of worship. So don’t tell lies and say that catholics dont worship mary. Answer me this when has God ever needed help from those who have died. Never does the bible ever speak of such a thing for God is creator of all and never has he used anyone who has died to reveal his message. The mary worship is an act of the devil either way he wants you to believe that this movie portrays false acts of catholics think about it if you choose to Believe that then he is winning the battle to condem your soul and either way if you choose to believe that mary was not in play with these miracles and those who say that only mary the real mary can perform miracles then the devil wins because God forbade anyone to do such things. Catholics ask yourself this question why did Jesus die on the cross? The book of Hebrews in the new testament God there tells us the his sacrifice was once and for all yet you catholics believe in the mass that is not biblical God dosent need mary to do anything or any Saint that you pray to to do his will he finished it on the cross. And yet you think that God needs us to fulfill what he has perfected on the cross. Becareful for the bible warns us about the devil and how he can transform himself as a bright star and deceive us from the truth. Read your Bible catholics and ask the Almighty God from the bible to reveal himself to you ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth about the bible. So don’t lie and tell people to not see the movie instead I say this read your Bible and if after you have taken God’s word into your heart and then walk into a catholic church and see for yourself if catholics are practicing what the bible teaches us. Because if you see them bowing kneeling and praying to statues you know that this is an act of worship. Remember Peter and when a fellow man came and kneel to him what did Peter say back to him he said all worship to God alone im just a man like you and remember John in the book of revelations when the angel came to speak to him what did John do he bowed and kneel to the angel and the angel replied get up and don’t kneel to me worship God alone. Why then would you think for a second that God makes acceptions only for mary the answer is no for the bible tells us that God nature does not change his character is always consistent so who then is appearing as mary mother of Jesus guess! The devil you say no ok let’s put it through the test. In the bible anytime God needed to address something to us a message he would talk to the profits now show me where God ever used a human who was no longer living at that time to reveal a message to us show me…. never he always spoke through the profits and then through his son and now through the Holy Spirit. I left that religion not because of the sex scandals or them speaking bad about the Marian dogmas but because God gave me truth and I opened my eyes and saw the truth in the bible and after seeing truth I could no longer be part of this cult the roman catholic faith. My option is all those who want to know truth open your bible and seek the true Almighty God and there you will find truth and I say this speacially for those who have difficulty with finding truth remember God told us that there are two roles one that leads to hell and its very wide road and the other that is narrow but leads to heaven. Just the fact that Jesus telling us that he made it clear that there are two rodes and not a third like catholics believe purgatory that place is a lie that the devil wants you to believe. Read the bible the word of God it will reveal the truth about this false purgatory. To finalize what I mentioned earlier where would you put your faith in when it what is in stake is your eternal place. What a man tells you to believe like the pope cardinal bishop priest or the Bible which is the word of God. The Bible tells us to test the spirit which means the nature of the message if the message is consistant with the word of God then its God speaking to us but if the message does not parallel with the bible and it has to parallel 100% then its not God but the enemy seeking your damnation. May God truly open your eyes to all who read this comment and may the Almighty God the Father God the Son and God the Holy Spirit open your eyes and bring you back to him.

    1. May God Bless you. You sound very angry. Simply put, would you watch this movie with Jesus sitting next to you? If not, why take so long to defend it? This is not a matter of theology or who knows the Bible better. The film is extremely disrespectful to the Mother of God.

    2. How did you know the hearts of Catholics that they were worshipping her ?? I’m a Catholic, I don’t worship Mary! Can you explain my heart please?? But one thing, I’m was so confused for Protestants… is Protestants or God to judge people’s hearts??

  3. Read this review of The Unholy after watching the Movie. The Devil is too cunning to use a Witch posing as the Virgin Mary to lead Catholics astray. He is much smarter than that. The Deceiver that he is Satan uses compromised Priests, Bishops and Cardinals to much better effect.

  4. There are a multitude of issues with this article, the majority of which can be attributed to the fact that the author did not watch the film. Judging an entire film based on the trailer alone is like judging an entire book based on its synopsis. Now, let’s start with some of the simple issues in this article.
    First, the image at the top of this article is not from the 2021 film The Unholy referenced throughout. Rather, this is from the unrelated 1988 film by the same name. This may seem like a simple mistake, but it shows laziness on the author’s part and further demonstrates
    That they did not see the film.
    Second, the author states that the film is based around a “half deaf girl”. I have to ask – what does this even mean? Does it mean she is only deaf in one ear? Does it mean she is only partially deaf? Either way, it doesn’t matter, because the film establishes that Alice, the character the author is referring to, is completely deaf and has been since birth. Again, if you had seen the film and not just the trailer, you would know this.
    Third, the author refers to the main character, Gerry Fenn, as a retired journalist. If you saw the film, you would know that Gerry is a disgraced journalist, not a retired one. He was once a famous writer for a prestigious paper, but had a fall from grace once it was revealed that he was fabricating stories. At the beginning of the film, Gerry is working for a small paper that focuses on paranormal topics. If you saw the movie, you would know this.
    Moving on to some slightly meatier topics, the author says that trailer contains ” shadowy nuns, corrupt and unfaithful priests, burning crosses and more”.
    First, I have no idea what “shadowy nuns” the author is referring to. The only nuns in the film are insignificant background characters that serve no purpose for the plot and sure aren’t the least bit “shadowy” .
    Second, most of the Catholic authorities depicted are shown in a positive and human light. Father Hagan is a dying man with a tremendous love for his niece, who comes close to uncovering the truth. Monsignor Delgarde is a man of faith and reason, who champions the truth throughout the film. The only Catholic authority painted in a negative light is the Bishop, who I think is a fascinating character. The Bishop is more concerned with the utilitarian benefits of faith, rather than the validity of the beliefs themselves. While he may not be the representation the author would prefer, he is an example of the human and flawed people that can be found in any religion.
    Lastly, let’s cover some of the more serious points the author makes. The author states that the trailer shows “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 couldn’t be further from the truth. All of the Catholic authorities in the film – Father Hagan especially – are skeptical of the alleged miracles in the beginning. In fact, the Bishop and Monsignor set out to test the veracity of the supposed miracles using the standards laid out by the church. Namely, that it must be for an incurable illness, the cure must be instantaneous and it must be complete. They only accept the validity of the miracles once these standards are met. Yet, this shows that skepticism is important even then, because these results may not be even attributable to a “God” , however that is defined.
    I will concede that the film at times does seem to imply a worship of Mary by Catholics, but I think this is debatable. The slogan of the film is “be careful who you pray to” and I think that this film shows that even if
    Miracles could be attributed to a supernatural being, that doesn’t make said being worthy of worship. I would argue that the townsfolk who were deceived by Mary Elnor likely didn’t worship the Virgin Mary prior to the alleged miracles. But they got wrapped up in the teachings of a false prophet and began to worship a being other than God.
    That being said, I am not going to argue against any faith based arguments that the author brings up, because that would be pointless. For example, the author stating that a demon could never step foot in a church because of the presence of the Eucharist is, well, just smoke and mirrors. I can’t prove or disprove that point, so I’ll leave that for the believers.
    In the end, I think that The Unholy is a great film that raises some great points that can be appreciated by believers and non-believers, and Catholics and non-catholics alike.
    The first major point of the film is faith and reason are not mutually exclusive. One can have faith in God while still being skeptical of religious and supernatural claims. This point is made throughout, and I think it’s important to note that the main character, even after seeing how things can be misconstrued as acts of God, still becomes a believer in the end.
    Second, another point raised by the film is that supernatural acts do not make a being worthy of worship. Even if a being were capable of miraculously curing people, would that automatically make said being a “God” . And even if so, should we just simply worship that God? What if that God has intentions that we would consider immoral or destructive? Should we still bow our heads in worship? “Be careful who you pray to” indeed.
    Lastly, I think this film also does a good job in taking on the commercialization of religion. The Bishop is a great character, because he illustrates the dangers in caring more about the aesthetics and utilitarianism of faith rather than its validity or positivity.
    I’ll end with this. If you are going to criticize a film, at the very least, do so after watching it and not just after skimping through a 2 minute trailer. Again, this comes off as lazy and shows you really don’t care what this film is or what it has to say.
    That being said, I don’t mind if you didn’t like this film, but I see it as silly to try to sway people away. Let people make up their own minds. If a Catholic wants to see this film don’t try to convince them not to. Let them decide that for themselves. Even if this film offends you and those points of offense are valid, it doesn’t mean this film should be hidden away like those “shadowy nuns” you supposedly saw in the trailer. Catholicism, like any religion, is based in faith. And like any religion, those beliefs in faith should be open to criticism, parody and even ridicule. At the end of the day, this film doesn’t damage the Catholic religion more than any other. I would argue if any damage is done, it is done by the believers themselves.

  5. This movie makes me so sad, that is why we do the First 5 Saturdays of the Month to stop all the blasphemy made against Our Mother Mary, and to Repair her Immaculate Heart. How do we start a boycott to ban this movie. It is a disgrace and sony even came out with it on and said On the Holiest Day of the year comes the unholy. Which is sick knowing we celebrate Lent. May God change their hearts to desire Heaven and not the things of earth.

    1. The movie was already released in theaters and in multiple formats. Many people have already seen the film – it would be stupid to try to boycott or ban it for that reason alone. But it is even stupider to try to ban something because it offends your worldview. The earth is full of billions of people and those billions of people have countless beliefs – religious and otherwise. You are not special as a Catholic and do not deserve to be treated better than anyone else. They had the right to make this film and you have the right not to like it. If you don’t want to watch it, simply do not watch it. We don’t need to start banning things simply because some people offended.

  6. “Praying to Mary and other dead saints is not biblical and praying to anyone other than God is idolatry. To bow down to a statue or painting and pray to it is evil and it is forbidden in Scripture. When confronted some Catholics say we don’t pray to them, but we ask them to pray for us. Nowhere in Scripture does it say pray to dead saints. Nowhere in Scripture does it say ask dead saints to pray for you. Why pray to the dead when you can pray to God? Why confess your sins to man when you can confess and repent to God? It’s a terrible and evil thing to pray to Mary, but Catholics even worship Mary more than they do Jesus. The Lord will not share His glory with anyone. They will do all they can to justify rebellion, but Catholicism continues to put many people on the road to hell.”

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