The Epic Tale of Family Versus Ghost
Starring: Odette Yustman and Gary Oldman
Let’s get the ball rolling in 2009 with horror. The Unborn is written and directed by David S. Goyer, co-writer of The Dark Knight. So, I know what you’re thinking. The Dark Knight was a pretty good movie, and another Dark Knight alum, Gary Oldman, is working in The Unborn as well. So it can’t be that bad of a movie… right? Well, you’re wrong.
The Unborn is the story of a young girl (we don’t know how old she is; even the filmmakers seem unsure of this as she seems to toggle from high school to college – the confusion is only intensified when her father, with whom she lives, inexplicably disappears from the film) who struggles with a family curse. Or is it a haunting? Demonic possession? The world may never know. As incredulous as it may seem, that’s the entire film. If you hate spoilers, even small ones, you might as well quit reading now. Although, I’ve probably let at least one slip through your eyes already.
The story seems to start a quarter deep into the story. We’re not given any hints as to what happened before the point of attack, but those events are crucial to the events to follow. Too bad we don’t find them out until literally the last two minutes of the film. I don’t want to tell you what it is, but I will let you know that once you see it, you’ll understand what I mean when I say there’s no way this girl would have kept this to herself during the 87 minutes in which she’s dealing with twins and haunted fetuses.
The story is almost entirely detached from reality, set in a place where women sleep in the nude, people always talk philosophy and get into deep revelations after sex, and best friends talk about things like death and conspiracy over the internet and telephone. Seriously. In one scene, the main character (Yustman) is picked up by her best friend after being attacked by the curse-ghost-demon, dropped off, only so the girls can plug into their computers and talk about it long-distance.
The script is riddled with bad dialog typically inserted into horror films. Really, do script writers think teenagers use words like “Bizarro” in replacement to the word “bizarre?” I don’t think so. I think the average teenage population is able to determine the adjective from the Superman villain. This film features a set of last words that left audience members cringing as a major character takes his last breath, he looks up into his lovers eyes and asks: “Did we get him?” I half expected him to follow up with something like, “We did it, Sport!” but instead mumbles something about falling for a long time.
Even worse than the dialog is the actual story of the script, which ranges from worn to incredible. The film boasts such tired horror clichés as rabid insects, abandoned mental hospitals, and mirrors serving as supernatural doorways. However, for a movie that depends so much on established horror elements, it also tries to make something original by encorporating a Jewish exorcism and tying in a Nazi conspiracy (take my word, this is no joke).
They seem to lose themselves in their quest for originality as early as the opening scene. Yustman’s character begins by running down an avenue alone, turns to see a little kid watching her. Okay, that’s kind of creepy. Then she blinks, and the kid becomes a dog. That’s weird. She blinks again, and now the dog’s wearing a kid mask. And that’s just cute. There’s nothing more adorable than a dog that wants to be a boy, and that’s the truth.
That’s only the beginning of the bad script elements the film has to offer. In an entirely unbelievable scene, an Episcopal priest and a Jewish rabbi shake hands, decide to put aside their differences and perform and exorcism together. In an even more incredulous scene, our heroine finds a rare theological text (it turns out to be an original copy of the Kabbalah) at a public library. Not only does the library have this unlikely religious relic, but no one seems to notice when she slides it into her back and sneaks off with it, nor does her Jewish spiritual advisor (Oldman) wonder where she dug it up.
There aren’t any of the horror genre’s deeper sins, such as buckets of gore and abundant shots of hideous monsters that just become overkilled by the film’s climax. However, it does work in many of the editing faults typical of amateur horror films. The story and pacing alone is too weak to cause any serious suspense or scares, so the director instead resorts to quick jumps, fast editing, and loud sounds to make the audience jump. Sadly enough, this technique is a shortcut used to emulate authentic thrills. They take it so far, in fact, that the pivotal scene of the film, aforementioned Jewish exorcism, looks more like a music video sans the music than a piece of a horror film.
So, remember discussing the pros of this film? Goyer and his Dark Knight credits and Oldman, who delivers good performances even in bad films? Well, his role in The Unborn is too small to judge, totaling less than fifteen minutes on screen but still coming out as the most important character in the film. In fact, most of the people in the audience only seemed interested in two scenes: the old man doing the crab walk (speaking of horror clichés…) and the dog with the upside-down head. Once these two scenes passed, most of them became bored and muttered among one another.
With that said, I can’t think of anything that redeems the film. Sure, the filmmakers tried to make a religious horror movie and tried to simultaneous distance themselves from Christian theology, but the Jewish religious references are too obscure and stretched to be taken seriously and come out as more of a joke (in one scene, Yustman exclaims “I don’t want a Christian exorcism! I want a Jewish one!”), but this is enough to save this movie from everything it does wrong.