Unborn, The (United States, 2009)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Unborn, The Poster

For a while, The Unborn unfolds like a nice little PG-13 horror film should: a dash of atmosphere, a heroine who spends lots of time in her underwear, a general sense of enhanced creepiness, and an effective "boo!" moment or two. Then it commits a cardinal sin and tries to explain what's going on. This is where many a horror movie falls and never again rises: too much exposition. Not only does it defuse the mystery but it often makes it impossible to continue suspending disbelief. The more the characters babble about twins, demons, the door being open, and other such nonsense, the more preposterous The Unborn seems. It then crosses the threshold from ludicrous to idiotic during its final third when the blood starts flowing, the body count mounts, and the evil spirit moves freely from body to body. The climax is presented in such an operatic, over-the-top style, complete with a bombastic score, that it's nearly impossible to stifle a guffaw. Maybe approaching The Unborn as horror is the wrong approach. Perhaps this should be seen as a comedy. It is quite possibly the most egregiously laughable high-profile supernatural tale since Roman Polanski and Johnny Depp impaled themselves on The Ninth Gate.

Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman) is an average, well-adjusted teenager (her mother committed suicide and her father is almost never around) until the day when a creepy little boy, who looks like he just stepped out of a grave, invades her dreams and dogs her waking footsteps. She is understandably freaked out by this, especially when she has a vision of the kid curled up in her medicine cabinet. But never fear: there's always the Wise Old Woman Whose Sole Purpose Is To Provide Plot Exposition. In this case, she's Auschwitz survivor Sofi Kozma (Jane Alexander), the Grandmother Casey never knew she had. So, instead of doing what any vaguely rational teenager would do and paying a visit to a psychiatrist, Casey elects to spend time with Grandma. It's around this time that she also discovers she had a twin brother who died in utero when her umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, and apparently that's who's haunting her. Or something like that. Thankfully, Sofi makes everything clear - at least to Casey if not to us. After having her conversation with the elderly lady, Casey goes home and breaks all her mirrors, steals a really old book from a library, and finds a Rabbi (Gary Oldman) and asks him to perform an exorcism on her.

Oldman's appearance in The Unborn comes as a bit of a surprise. My guess is that he was between appearances in Harry Potter and Batman movies and needed a little spare cash. Either that or Max von Sydow wasn't available. The movie steals so much from The Exorcist (including a man doing a "spider walk") that an appearance by von Sydow woudn't have been unexpected. But it's just Oldman. As a performer, he acts circles around his young, vivacious co-star, Odette Yustman, whose "big break" was in last year's Cloverfield. Thespian talent aside, she trumps him in certain areas, like looking better in her skivvies. Not that we see him strip down for comparison. He is playing a rabbi, and there's not much call for men of the cloth to wander around half-naked in movies like this.

In their desperation to market The Unborn as something more substantive than it is, Rogue Pictures has latched onto the hook that writer/director David S. Goyer was also involved in last year's biggest movie, The Dark Knight. Goyer was co-credited with Christopher Nolan for the story upon which Nolan and his brother, Jonathan, based the screenplay. For a better representation of Goyer's cinematic legacy, one needs look no further than the Blade series. He wrote all three of those movies and directed the third. Sad to say, as bad as Blade: Trinity was, it was better than this.

There is one thing of interest about The Unborn. It's not a remake of an Asian horror film but it feels like one. That's not just because it's incoherent and borderline-unwatchable - characteristics common with those remakes - but it has the same gothic style-over-substance approach favored by them. And the plot distills to the same basic ingredients: a nasty ghost or demon is messing with our poor heroine in sinister but PG-13 ways. Perhaps that's how Goyer got a greenlight on The Unborn - by fooling the producers into thinking this is actually an Asian horror remake. Those things get funded no matter how bad they are, and some of them are very bad - even worse than The Unborn.

Hey, but at least the girl looks good in her underwear. And if you don't think that's a big selling point, take a look at the poster.

Unborn, The (United States, 2009)

Director: David S. Goyer
Cast: Odette Yustman, Gary Oldman, Meagan Good, Cam Gigandet, Jane Alexander
Screenplay: David S. Goyer
Cinematography: James Hawkinson
Music: Ramin Djawadi, RZA
U.S. Distributor: Rogue Pictures
Run Time: 1:27
U.S. Release Date: 2009-01-09
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1