Unwelcome: Discussing goblins, folk tales and home invasions with director Jon Wright

Out in 2022, new horror movie Unwelcome sees a young couple’s new home besieged by goblins (and possibly by the locals!). We spoke to its director Jon Wright about what we can expect…

Unwelcome stars Hannah John-Kamen and Douglas Booth as Maya and Jamie, a couple who escape their urban nightmare to the tranquility of rural Ireland only to discover malevolent, murderous goblins lurking in the gnarled, ancient wood at the foot of their new garden.

Check out the brand new trailer here…

Directed by Jon Wright, Unwelcome is based on an original screenplay by Mark Stay and also stars Colm Meaney, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, Chris Walley and Kristian Nairn.

The film has also reunited the Grabbers creature team; including prosthetics by Shaune Harrison who has worked on some of the world’s highest-grossing blockbusters including the Harry Potter films, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and Avengers: Age of Ultron along with creature designs by Paul Catling (Maleficent, Thor, Fantastic Beasts) and longtime Wright collaborator VFX supervisor Paddy Eason (28 Weeks Later, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Grabbers).

We sat down with director Jon Wright to speak to him about his new movie and just how he plans on getting those goblins right…

Unwelcome tells the story of a young couple who have moved to rural Ireland.

How did you first get involved with Unwelcome?

It basically started with a conversation with [Mark Stay] who wrote the movie. We were talking about how we were pacifists. I was explaining that when I was a teenager, my dad took me out in the garden to teach me how to box, and I explained to him that I was a pacifist.

That was a great disappointment to him. He was very sad and upset about that. But when I was talking to my co-writer about the fact that we were both pacifists, we sort of had to give a caveat, which is if our families were involved in something, particularly talking about our children, I was thinking, ‘if my son was threatened, I would be violent, and I would probably be violent in a way that it wouldn’t be a casual thing, it would be very aggressive because it would be designed to bring whatever was going on to a very abrupt conclusion’.

So that was the beginning of the story: how can a pacifist be violent? What does it take to make a pacifist, violent? So that was the genesis of the story and that took us to this young couple who, at the beginning of the movie, get in a very violent confrontation, and they move from the heart of urban London to the middle of nowhere in Southern Ireland. But the violence comes and finds them in Ireland and it’s how they deal with it the second time round…

Did you and writer Mark Stay do much research into folk tales?

We’re big fans of folk tales and fairy tales. We’ve read all of that stuff and read all the Irish folk tales and legends. We were drawn to those sorts of myths. The technical side of it that fused with the idea of this theme was I had a notion about how to do creatures.

So they’re either going to be small creatures or big creatures but without getting into the details of it (that will be revealed further down the line), I had a technical approach that I thought would look really great. It’s like a fusion of old and new, technically speaking.

That led us to want to do goblins. There’s an old legend about the Far Darrig, which is the Red Men in Gaelic, who are goblins who dip their caps in the blood of their victims. They’re also known as Red Caps. We always thought that was a pleasing antidote to leprechauns and gnomes. These guys are very murderous and of course, that dovetailed into our theme, which was violence, what it takes to be violent, and these goblins are very violent!

What can you tell us overall about Unwelcome?

The film opens with a bang and then it’s a slow burn. The arc of the film is sort of like a ski jump. By the end it really takes off and it gets to a crazy place. The final third is extremely intense and violent and high pressure, and then it goes off to a completely other level right at the very end!

Goblins are a big part of the movie, they’re integral to the film, but it’s not really about creatures. It’s about people – we describe it as a modern reinvention of Gremlins meets Straw Dogs.

A big component of the movie is a home invasion and there are various twists around that home invasion. It doesn’t go the way you’d expect it, in several different ways. But it’s basically about people feeling unsafe in their homes and feeling scared of what’s out there…

Unwelcome is about people feeling unsafe in their own homes.

From the looks of the trailer it seems that Maya and Jamie should be wary of more than just the goblins…

Yeah, exactly, and it’s how the goblins fit into that. They’re idealistic, wanting to do their best by the local people. They get involved with a family who are quite dangerous and it’s what happens when they fall out with that family later. That is the heart of the story.

Colm Meaney plays the patriarch of the family. Kristian Nairn, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell and Chris Walley are the kids.

What can you tell us about Maya and Jamie?

They are a young, liberal, modern couple, very urban in their outlook, and that’s what we’re testing. At the beginning of the film, they’re quite idealistic and pacifists and then the extremity of what happens at the top of the film drives them to doing something that maybe they wouldn’t have ordinarily thought. To go live in the middle of nowhere, to live in a village. Then the violence comes back to haunt them in a way that they weren’t quite expecting.

Maya and Jamie (played by Hannah John-Kamen and Douglas Booth) have their idealistic outlook tested.

What kind of scares can we expect from Unwelcome?

You can expect a lot of tension and pressure. The film gets very violent. People who’ve watched it said to me ‘my God it’s incredibly violent!’ So I suppose I’ve got used to it. But that’s where it goes. It’s a horror movie.

It’s very much in the vein of modern horror really. This new wave of horror that I would have said started more or less with It Follows and goes through to Midsommar, The Babadook, Hereditary, Get Out, Upgrade and Don’t Breathe. All those modern horrors, that are horrors in one way and in another way they’re movies that have something to say. They’ve got things to talk about, how the modern world is different to how it used to be. So we very much are getting into all that.

What’s great about this film that’s different to how it would have been if we made it 10 or 20 years ago, is that we’re able to do all that. We’re being actively encouraged to really dig into some interesting and difficult themes and put all that through the lens of a horror movie.

What do you want audiences to take away from Unwelcome?  

Obviously not many people have seen it at this stage, but those who have seen it say that it’s a roller coaster ride. It gets to be very exciting and intense. Quite often the thing that comes back is it’s different to anything that’s out there. So, it’s a very fun ride but it’s quite a different film from what’s out there in the mainstream.

I don’t know if I set out to do that intentionally. I set out to make something that’s scary and entertaining but I just think the combination of elements, and the way that the plot twists and turns and takes you off in an unexpected direction seems to be quite satisfying to people!

Unwelcome is released in cinemas in 2022