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The Unborn

March 4, 2009

Sometimes, sometimes screaming is the only answer. David S Goyer’s shockingly bad The Unborn is a daft little horror story about a girl who unwittingly (of course) strangled her twin brother in the womb with her umbilical cord, and now the little bugger wants revenge.

Or it seems to be about that. Then it’s not really about what she did at all, and it’s about a Dybbuk, a disembodied spirit from Jewish folklore, who attempts to possess a living body that belongs to another soul. There are various origins attributed to these spirits. These Dybbuks may be the soul of a sinner, who wishes to escape the just punishment meted to it by the angels who seek to resolve them, or it may be seeking revenge for some evil that was done to it while it lived. It’s a bit confused, to be honest, but I’ll come back to that in a minute, because the Jewish angle, instead of being actually rather interesting, turns ugly and even a little offensive.

Anyhoo. Back to the girl. Fortunately, she’s 19 and utterly gorgeous, which is good news as she seems to spend an inordinate amount of time traipsing about in her white cotton briefs. Why this is necessary for her dead baby brother to make an appearance I’m unsure, but it seemed important, so I just ran with it. Casey (Odette Yustman) lives in one of those enormo-houses out in the Chicago suburbs where it’s easy for horror movie protagonists to hide, because the rooms are so huge and the staircases have to bend where the shadows meet (since no-one ever turns the fricking lights on). With great good fortune, she’s also one of those girls whose father is almost always “out of town on business”, except at those crucial points when he’s requireded to explain the plot a little, so that she’s almost always alone in her gigantic mansion (apart, of course, when her boyfriend is needed to not see the horrible things she will then spend ten minutes insisting she did see). It is also wonderfully convenient that, as a baby-sitter for the similarly well-housed people across the street, as soon as she hears a footfall upstairs instead of walking swiftly along to see if her infant charges are awake, she creeps cautiously to the bottom of the stairs and calls, “Matty…?” I mean, how else are you going to ratchet up the tension? She’s rich, young and good looking, isn’t that enough; you surely didn’t expect her to act like every single other person on the planet, did you?

So. Bad things happen. Blah blah blah. Horrible bugs crawl out of things. Her dead Mom appears. The baby-sat child starts to say prophetic things. Like I said…blah blah blah.

Then she finds a grandma she never knew she had, ferreted away in a spooky retirement home (never a sunlit warden-controlled holiday village, note) and we track the disembodied spirit down at last…to…delightfully, the Holocaust. Charming. A nasty little central back story is suddenly segued in at this point, about how the Nazis wanted to experiment on twin children (in this scene, the twins are all uniformly about 8, because a room filled with 24, 31 and 53 year olds wouldn’t have the same affect when the nasty German doctor is pushing a syringe into their eyes) and how this process – God alone knows how – turns one of them into an evil spirit child type thing. I mean, what? I’m sure I didn’t get that wrong. But anyway, it seems Casey’s deceased Great Uncle has been captured by a Dybbuk, and now wants to come back and…you know, be all evil, and stuff.

So, along comes Super Rabbi Gary Oldman (I’ve lost you, haven’t I?) and with nary five minutes’ worth of persuasion is throwing himself and his colleagues into an exorcism, a ceremony he has never performed before. Lot’s of wind and howling and noise later, oh, I don’t know, something happens and it’s all over. I’m unsure really, as I’d lost the will to live about an hour in.

Crucially, The Unborn builds up no good will in its early scenes, instead starting with a nightmare (why should we care? It’s not our nightmare, and it’s not the nightmare of anyone we’ve learnt to care about) and then continuing with a serious of allegedly spooky occurrences that seem to have little or no point to them. For a film that lasts less than 90 minutes and tries hard to have something happening at almost every turn, it is remarkably boring. The Dybbuk angle may be interesting (I’d never heard of it) but that is the one diverting aspect in the whole thing – well, that and Ms Yustman’s bottom – because everything else here we have seen a thousand times before.

Now, admittedly, the end product is quite polished, and as I understand it, Goyer is responsible for much of the story of The Dark Knight (but also Jumper, worryingly) so he has a lot of experience, I guess. Possibly this may explain why he asked Gary Oldman to join in; why the guy agreed is another matter altogether. The introduction of the Holocaust as an engine to drive the middle act of the story is badly judged and leaves a nasty taste. Overall it’s a film that gets worse every time I think about it.


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