Movie Review – The Unborn (2009)

2009’s The Unborn brings with it many reasons to expect a satisfying horror film, just two being that it stars the incredible Gary Oldman and is written and directed by David Goyer, one of the writers of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008). Unfortunately, these expectations only add to the disappointment. Goyer’s previous directing forays, The Invisible (2007) and Blade: Trinity (2004), might have foretold this, though I had hoped that after the Batman reboots he might have learned a few new tricks. He might have, but far too few.

This film had some promise. The cinematography is appropriately moody, some of the creature effects are impressive (if not entirely original), and the story, though deriving inspiration from Kabala mysticism, nobly attempts to not be confined by any one religion or creed.

However, in the end The Unborn is formulaic and forgettable. After a decent first third the movie loses steam and becomes dull and convoluted. It relies on tired clichés and ineffective jump-scares to irritating degrees. These tactics have been rehashed countless times that even casual horror fans are completely desensitized to it. Rather than make the audience jump it instead clues us into the fact that what we are about to watch is stale and unimaginative. When this is done over and over early on in a film, before we even know the characters or what we’re supposed to be afraid of, it becomes infuriating. Sadly for The Unborn, the characters are so thin and clichéd that we never fear for their well-being or care for their fate – tension and true horror is therefore lost. It does not help that the acting is also poor, including the uneven performance by Odette Yustman, who plays the lead, Casey, a role that has her posing between scares in her underwear just to keep our attention.

The plot follows Casey as she begins to be haunted by a ghost child who repeatedly tells her, “Jumby wants to be born now.” Casey begins having a pigmentation change in her eye, leading her to discover that she was a twin and that her brother (said Jumby) died in utero from her umbilical cord. We assume that the ghost child is Jumby until we meet Casey’s long lost grandmother, an Auschwitz survivor, who tells her it is a dybbuk, an evil spirit wanting to inhabit this world. Actually, the grandmother seems to be living across town in a nursing home, though for unexplained reasons nobody, even her father, seemed to tell Casey. The grandmother explains that her own twin brother was possessed by the dybbuk, perhaps after the experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele (though he is not named), in the concentration camp before she had to kill him. It’s telling in a supposed horror film when not even Auschwitz looks scary. The dybbuk has been haunting the family ever since, even driving Casey’s mother to suicide.

So just forget about all that Jumby stuff, I guess. As the story progresses, it becomes ever more of a struggle to buy into it, and makes me think that Goyer started off with a good idea but ran into a wall when he needed closure. Not even Gary Oldman as an exorcist rabbi can elevate this movie. There are so many clichés and borrowed elements that it is difficult to know when Goyer is paying homage to the genre’s alumni or plagiarizing them. With so much missed potential, The Unborn lives up to its name.

Grade: D

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