Title: The Unborn
Cast: Odette Yustman (Cloverfield), Meagan Good (Saw V), Cam Gigandet and Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight) as Rabbi Sendak.
Directed by: David Goyer (Blade: Trinity, The Invisible, Batman Begins)
Scores: Technical: 85, Story: 55, Acting: 60, Overall: 66
Evil will do anything to live: is this just the tagline for the new supernatural thriller The Unborn, or the thought long-time followers of the horror genre will have of its creators after watching this movie? The idea of this film seemed promising at first glance; mixing a seemingly interesting plot-line, somewhat reminiscent of The Exorcist, the scariest movie of all time, with hit-making producer Michael Bay and his production company Platinum Dunes. Throw in talented director, writer and producer David S. Goyer and esteemed actor Gary Oldman, along with Cam Gigandet, one of the stars of the recent ‘tween mega-hit Twilight, and the movie makers, who should have had the recipe for the perfect horror film, instead came up empty.
It seemed likely that The Unborn would be a critical and box office success, as it was made and handled by people and companies who have previous experience and success in the horror genre. Bay, along with his partners, Brad Fuller and Andrew Form, created Platinum Dunes to specialize in horror films, and had earlier hits with the remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror and The Hitcher. The Unborn also had the good fortune of being distributed by Rogue Pictures, another suspense, horror and thriller production company that has released such modest hits as Cry Wolf, The Return and The Strangers.
Securing Goyer to direct and write The Unborn should have been a triumph for Platinum Dunes. While Goyer doesn’t have as big of a name recognition with fans as Bay, he has churned out hits in the past. He produced the surprise hit Ghost Rider, as well as Blade 2 (which he also wrote) and Blade: Trinity (which he also wrote and directed). Goyer also wrote Jumper, and came up with the story ideas for last year’s highest grossing movie The Dark Knight.
The Unborn follows protagonist Casey Beldon (played by Odette Yustman) as she becomes plagued by cruel dreams and visions of an evil child with bright blue eyes. She also beings displaying symptoms of an eye condition common among twins, and her father finally tells her that she had a twin brother who died in the womb. After meeting with Sofi, who is a patient in the same hospital where her mother was, Casey begins to suspect that the spirit haunting her is her brother, who is being possessed by a dybbuk (a spirit that wants to inhabit the body of another person).
Sofi thinks the dybbuk is her own twin brother, who was killed in Nazi experiments in Auschwitz when they were children. Her brother was brought back to life by a dybbuk who intended to use his body as a portal into the world of the living. In an effort to stop the dybbuk, Sofi refers Casey to Rabbi Sendak (played by Gary Oldman), who would perform a Jewish exorcism on her in order to stop the dybbuk once and for all.
While Platinum Dunes probably wanted to stay on its successful track of remaking and recreating famous horror films by producing The Unborn, its overall resemble to The Exorcist is slim. While the main storyline in The Unborn revolves around a young woman seeking help and an exorcism from a holy man to drive out the evil spirit haunting her, the similarities to The Exorcist end there.
Goyer created an underdeveloped, clichéd cast of characters by not giving them much of a back story, in what seemed like a rushed and last minute attempt to mold them around the plot. As a result, both the actors and the audience were not able to connect to, or feel sympathetic towards, the characters.
The audience wasn’t even given any background details about Casey, such as what she’s studying in college, where she met her boyfriend, what her father does for a living and how he afforded the huge house they lived in, and she’s the main character in the movie. Instead, Casey discusses the first dream she had about the dybbuk in the opening sequence of the movie, and her life spirals out of control right away, without ever explaining what her life was like before.
By contrast, in The Exorcist, protagonist Regan MacNeil, didn’t begin to display signs of a demonic presence until about the middle of the movie. This was far more effective in engaging the audience, as members were able to understand her lifestyle, and feel like they knew her, before evil came into her life.
It also seemed as though Goyer couldn’t make up his mind about the direction he wanted to take the film. The script started off with Casey just thinking she was being haunted by her twin brother because it was her umbilical cord that choked him in the womb. It seemed likely Goyer found the story was losing steam and there wasn’t much else he could write about, so he changed directions and added the dybbuk. This was confusing for the audience, as the advertising neglected to mention this element of the movie. The only way the dybbuk element could have been effective was if it was revealed as a twist ending, and Casey spent the majority of the movie researching how she could have stopped her brother, only to realize at the last minute her efforts weren’t going to work.
The main redeeming quality of The Unborn was the ‘jump-from-your-seat’ scare moments. Casey’s visions of her brother occurred randomly, when the audience was least expecting it; he would often just pop up out of nowhere, looking extremely pale and sickly. While the emotional and psychological scares were scarce, the physical scares were plentiful.
While many of the scares were not as effective as those in The Exorcist, The Unborn definitely earned its PG-13 rating for intense sequences of violence and terror, disturbing images, thematic material and language including some sexual references. Teens will like the implied sex scene and the mild profanity; this is shown in the fact that in its first week alone, The Unborn exceeded box office expectations and made over $23 million worldwide. People old enough to see R-rated movies, however should skip this movie in the theater, and straight to the video store to rent The Exorcist again.
Written by: Karen Benardello