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the unborn

The Unborn
David S. Goyer
Cast: Odette Yustman, Gary Oldman, Meagan Good, Cam Gigandet, Idris Elba, Hane Alexander, Hames Remar

Joanne Ross

January 20, 2009


2008 was a dismal year for horror films. And, unfortunately, the genre isn’t off to a promising start in 2009 with the release of The Unborn.  This movie, along with many others before it, is making a strong case for proving that scary movies just aren’t scary anymore.  It’s a bad sign for The Unborn when the predominant responses from the audience to the so-called scary scenes are sarcastic shout outs and hysterical laughter. So, no, I didn’t get what I paid for, but at least I got some good belly laughs out of it.

Teenager Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman) is having a bad dream. While jogging in the park, she encounters an eerie looking boy (Ethan Cutkosky), a dog wearing a mask, and buried in the dirt, a fetus in a jar. Her best friend Romy (Meagan Good) tries to decipher her dream. Things progress quickly, because Casey starts seeing and hearing things, too.  One night as she babysits her neighbor’s children, she hears the boy Matty (Atticus Shaffer) whisper, “Jumby wants to be born now”.

The creepy little boy of her dream randomly pops up wherever Casey goes – on the street, at the dance club, as a reflection in her mirror. Not only is she seeing strange things, but now physically her eyes have become discolored.  The ophthalmologist tells her the discoloration results from a genetic condition associated with twins. Could she have a twin? Casey confronts her father (James Remar) and learns she did indeed have a twin brother who died in her mother’s womb. Her twin’s death drove her depressed mother (Carla Cugino) to commit suicide.

Casey is convinced that she is being haunted. At this point, the film goes from bad to worse as Casey investigates her mother’s past for clues to her dilemma. She uncovers more than she bargained for – and more than the audience could swallow without groaning out loud – an unknown grandmother (Jane Alexander), Nazi concentration camp experiments, Jewish mysticism, malevolent spirits known as Dybbuks, and possession. Does anything here sound familiar?  It should. This storyline is not only familiar, it’s screamingly funny besides.  Director/writer David S. Goyer obviously looked for material from other, better films to fashion his movie.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with borrowing from other films. It’s hard to come up with new, original ideas to scare people, so filmmakers recycle successful conventions. And right now many of them are still enthralled by the Asian New Wave style that first surfaced here in the 2001 American remake of Japan’s, The Ring. As a result, we get the bug-eyed, pale-faced scary kid; the grossly contorted bodies; and creepy film footage in addition to all the other tried and true storylines and devices you come to expect – exorcisms, mental illness, evil spirits, mirrors as portals to the other side (Mirrors), etc.  So if a filmmaker uses well-tread storylines and scare tactics, then he should use them well.  That doesn’t happen here. Goyer piles the clichés one on top of another without any logic or reason. In the end, all we get is a nonsensical, sloppy mess.

The biggest disappointment for me is that The Unborn wastes the considerable talents of the remarkable Gary Oldman (Rabbi Sendak), one of the most versatile and exceptionally-gifted actors working today. What little onscreen time he does have is mercifully brief. The good thing is that Oldman can do no wrong; he delivers an intelligent and sincere performance in this vastly silly, trite, and convoluted film.*-JR


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