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The Unborn – Review

The Unborn – Review

May 28, 2010

reviewed by Danny
directed by David S. Goyer, 2009

Some films wear their influences on their sleeves;  The Unborn is fairly well clothed in them.  David S. Goyer’s supernatural yarn has scenes lifted from (or, to put it nicely, inspired by) dozens of earlier, better horror films.  Still, the film has some cool horror imagery that would likely be thought highly of if it was it service of a better, more original plot.

Right from the beginning I liked the way the plot got off and running without the background drivel often seen in modern horror.  The film may well be about the sins of the father being revisited  on the son (or, in this case, it is Grandmother/Granddaughter), but The Unborn skips the exposition and gets right to the creepy bits.   Casey (played by the lovely and game Odette Yustman) is jogging along a park road when she notices a single glove in her path.  She turns to see a creepy young boy (imagine Santi from The Devil’s Backbone minus the GGI).  The boy quickly turns into a dog wearing a plain white mask.  Casey follows the dog into the woods, where she finds the mask.  When she tries to pick up the mask, she reveals a jar with a fetus in formaldehyde.  While she is staring at it, the fetus opens its eyes.  Cut.

“So what do you think the dream means?”

It is a good opening.  Stylish.  Creepy.  It establishes a tone that the film manages to hold on to… for about thirty minutes.  The stuff happening around Casey is truly creepy when we have no clue what is going on.  The scene with the young boy, the baby, and the hand mirror is particularly effective even in its brevity.  The problem with the cool imagery is that, eventually, the plot comes along and renders it cliché and overdone.

Soon, we learn that Casey had been a twin and her twin brother had died in the womb after having her umbilical cord wrapped around his neck.  That would probably have been enough, but we are also treated to Nazi experimentation, Jewish mysticism, genetic mosaicism, and a ton of references to myths and folklore.  It all becomes a mess of tropes and cliches familiar to any horror film fan.

Unfortunately, even the visual tone of the film falls apart about the same time the plot unravels.  For the last half of the film nearly every supernatural image is one we have seen before.  I’m not talking obscure movies.  The references here are to films like The Exorcist and Ringu.

By the time the film wrapped up, I had little emotional connection to the characters.  Things had simply become too absurd and unbelievable.  The set up for the exorcism itself is as unbelievable as any element I’ve seen in a horror film in years.  It seems to exist only to provide more bodies for the demon to kill in gruesome ways.  It is also nice to note that you only actually have to read the first and last paragraphs of the exorcism ritual in the presence of the demon.  All of that middle stuff is apparently filler that can be done off screen.  That is going to allow me to cut a lot of useless pages out of my “How to Survive in Horror Film Situations” compendium.

After a strong opening, The Unborn falls apart.  It wastes a good core performance from Yustman and gives the brilliant Gary Oldman nothing interesting to do or say.  Worst, it wastes an excellent opening that led me to expect a much better film than I actually ended up seeing.

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