REVIEW: The Unborn [2009]

“Keep looking”

Does David S. Goyer not read the scripts he writes before choosing to direct them? This guy has been in the horror genre for almost two decades and has had names like Del Toro, Nolan, and Proyas direct his words. Why then does he pick the worst of his lot to put in front of the camera himself? If everyone else is passing, maybe he should take that as a sign to scrap it and start anew. Instead, the world is given drivel like The Unborn, which I must credit the marketing people for crafting a creepy trailer that made me almost see this thing in the theatres. Thank God I did not, because I would have been even more disappointed than I am now. The scariest thing this 87-minute film has going for it is the fact that so many recognizable faces came along for the ride, despite most only having ten minutes of screentime. I may have nightmares just fathoming why any of them would do this thing. The paycheck must have been huge and the contract must have included a “do not read before filming” clause.

Who doesn’t think twins are at least marginally creepy? When you throw in the curveball that one of the pair was strangled in utero by the other’s umbilical cord? Well now you have my attention for a horror flick. But of course the fun ride can’t be just that—an unborn sibling looking to wreak revenge and finally come into our world—no, we need some generational nonsense that spans back to an old Holocaust survivor. It can’t just be the demon form of Casey Beldon’s unborn twin, it has to be a new form of an ancient evil that has been attempting to cross over for centuries, one that had its first brief success with our heroine’s grandmother’s brother. I guess when you can’t quite get to the 90-minute mark, some padding is necessary, and this backstory definitely does the trick. Add to it the suicide caused by depression, (or was it?), of her mother, not to mention the intrinsic dark overtones of concentration camp flashbacks, and we get the same old derivative PG-13 horror that Hollywood has been passing onto the masses for years now. Let’s create some cool creatures, throw in some blood and quick overlapping cuts, and, of course, include an exorcism … maybe then the audience will forget it’s not R-rated or anything resembling an intriguing story.

I seriously feel bad for railing against this film, but I have no choice. I even had to rewind a half hour because I fell asleep for a bit. The attempts at scares are just dead-looking children in mirrors, opening their mouths menacingly while Odette Yustman’s Casey screams in fright. I like Yustman, I think she was fantastic in “October Road” and hope she finds some more serious fare to hone her talents. Think a classier looking Megan Fox who can actually give a line reading. Now, demonic children aren’t always bad, but the computer work/make-up isn’t anything to write home about. In fact, not many special effects did anything for me here, most are so fake that they become laughable. For future reference, don’t show the demonically possessed as their heads turn upside-down, just start them out that way. Honestly, it is 2009 and The Exorcist did it better three-and-a-half decades ago. I did have fun with the dog in the synagogue—the head was already 180 degrees spun—and the fetus that cropped up every now and again. Oh, and that Venom-looking beastie that stood in for the beautiful Carla Gugino a couple of times was pretty stellar.

Who else was baited into performing besides Yustman and Gugino you ask? How about familiar faces Idris Elba, (“The Office”), Rhys Coiro, (“Entourage”), James Remar, (“Dexter”), and Cam Gigandet, (Twilight), as well as Meagan Good, Jane Alexander, and Gary Oldman? Gary Oldman? Wow. And other than getting the chance to show off his Hebrew accent, what was the draw for this role? Besides Alexander, who is allowed to run a bit with her role and faux German dialect, Yustman is the only person with more than twenty total minutes in front of the camera. At one point I almost thought they completely dropped the best friend and boyfriend from the plot altogether, but they do eventually come back, once people are necessary to die of course. I did really like young Atticus Shaffer though. I remember seeing his strange face in Hancock and thinking to myself that he could be used effectively in a thriller. At least Goyer got that right.

I wanted so much to enjoy this thing, I really did. The concept seemed solid and the potential for creepiness great. Some of it even takes place in an abandoned mental institution, but that set-up goes nowhere except for supplying the exorcism a large open space to operate with. I kept hoping it would improve. The revelation of Alexander’s Sofia Kozma’s true relationship with Casey got my hopes up, then the introduction to Oldman’s rabbi sparked some interest, and even the prospect of an exorcism itself made me think that the conclusion would at least be exciting. But alas, the film let me down at every turn, falling back into it’s contrived, obvious self. Anything redeeming gets completely thrown out the window once the ending footnote arrives. How unoriginal can you get with that? Not much more. Thankfully Goyer had a Dark Knight and Dark City in him, at least there’s hope he can strike gold again.

The Unborn 3/10 | ★

photography:
[1] Odette Yustman in a scene from Rogue Pictures’ The Unborn.
[2] Gary Oldman as Rabbi Sendak, Odette Yustman as Casey Beldon with Cam Gigandet as Mark Hardigan in Rogue Pictures’ The Unborn.

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