Unborn, The (2009)
Reviewed by Andrew Kasch
Starring Odette Yustman, Gary Oldman, James Remar, Megan Good, Jane Alexander
Directed by David Goyer
There came a point in The Unborn, when a dumb teenager glanced over her shoulder to see the ghost of a creepy dead kid for the forty-seventh time, that I lost what little faith I had left in American horror. Never has it been clearer that the days of classy horror are long dead in Hollywood. The studio system has turned into its own Idiocracy, with a chain-of-command set up to prevent anything remotely mature or smart from challenging the stupidity of modern audiences.
The Unborn is the latest in a long line of teen-manufactured fakery. An uninspired fromage of The Exorcist and Ju On, the plot follows Casey (Cloverfield’s Odette Yustman), yet another blank, mid-twenties college coed who finds herself haunted by a supernatural force. Her dreams and visions tell her of a malevolent boy named Jumby (if you’re thinking of Gumby’s red-clayed doppelganger, you’re not alone) who, we’re told ad nauseam, really “wants to be born.” From there we take a trip on the formula train as Casey pieces together the mystery through old newspaper clippings and reclusive know-it-all geriatrics with the help of tertiary boyfriend/black friend/priest stereotypes who randomly pop up to die. Yup, same old crap.
The film is written and directed by David S. Goyer, who is extremely talented when he collaborates with other filmmakers (i.e., The Dark Knight, Dark City); not so much when left to his own devices (Blade: Trinity, The Invisible). To make matters worse, Goyer has teamed up with the frat boys at Platinum Dunes, and the results are exactly what one would expect: bland and mindless. As the company’s first non-remake, The Unborn doesn’t go so far as to desecrate a classic, but that hardly matters since the unholy trio of Bay/Fuller/Form produce their usual brand of generic poser-bullshit. Any trace of story, momentum, characters, or suspense has once again been jettisoned in lieu of empty style and one-note ghost scares.
And that’s all The Unborn has to offer: scene after scene of our skimpily clad heroine at a house/club/library/street where she notices a creepy kid, punctuated by a loud jump scare. This doesn’t just happen once in while; it’s in virtually every scene. Casey herself belongs to that Borg-collective of Hollywood post-teen models that lack any personality. She poses for the camera like a GAP ad and strikes horrified faces while parading around in her undies, sporting the largest camel-toe in cinema history (too bad it’s not in IMAX). The supporting characters are equally wooden, while the great Gary Oldman and James Remar are reduced to mere cameo appearances.
To his credit, Goyer tries to inject some interesting elements by spinning a back-story rooted in Nazi death camps and Jewish mythology, but all these ideas are insultingly glossed over (due largely to a PG-13 rating) and dropped as quickly as they’re introduced. I’m not sure if it’s the fault of the script or studio tampering, but The Unborn’s watered-down approach to WWII makes Isla: She Wolf of the SS seem downright sensitive in comparison. By the time a hammy Holocaust survivor utters the line “It has fallen to you to finish vat began at Auschwitz!” you can’t help but feel embarrassed for the entire Jewish race.
There are a few practical make-up gags that recall the glory days of Brian Yuzna/Screaming Mad George as well as a funny spin on the “bathroom-mirror ghost” cliché – but every scare is essentially one note repeated over and over again. It’s like being trapped at a magic show where the performer shows you the same card trick for 80 minutes. The Unborn is so utterly fake and repetitive it’s a wonder the studio didn’t slap on another title (The Grudge 4, Mirrors 2, etc.) and make it a direct-to-video sequel. As is, this cinematic miscarriage more than lives up to its name.
1 1/2 out of 5
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