Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Unborn

How could David S. Goyer, co-writer of last year's gripping and suspenseful triumph The Dark Knight, subsequently pen this cheap Exorcist rip-off, one so shamelessly manipulative it makes TDK's score seem like Jerry Goldsmith's understated Alien soundtrack? It seems obvious that Goyer, who wrote the script for Blade Trinity by himself, clearly isn't the X factor in the writing for TDK or the modern sci-fi classic Dark City, but this is a new low.

For the first 30 minutes, The Unborn is a decent PG-13 throwaway, one where its lead (Odette Yustman, who looks like Megan Fox, only more human) spends time in undies being chased by nominally scary visions. Heck, with its mask-wearing pitbulls and children who use hand-mirrors to cut faces, it was well on it's way to a delightfully camp affair. Then the plot enters the fray, too long after we've been subjected to too many random flashes of jump scares that lose their potency out of the gate.

Yustman plays Casey, a girl who suffers recurring hallucinations of a young boy with creepy blue eyes. Initially, she tries to play them off as merely bad dreams and relieves tension by fooling around with boyfriend Mark (Cam Gigandet). Why don't horror victims ever watch more horror films in order to educate themselves on the foolishness of this? It's obvious they aren't debating whether Jung or Freud was the better psychologist. One of her eyes changes colors, so she goes to the doctor (the first and last intelligent thing she does), who informs her that she is a twin. Her father confirms this, and says that her umbilical cord strangled her brother in the womb. And my mom complains about how my sister and I fight.

Eventually, Casey makes her way to an old woman, Sofi (Jane Alexander), who happens to be her long-lost grandmother. There are no hugs, though, no discussions about how Casey never met her. Instead, she starts spewing so much air full of expositional dialogue that she probably weighed less when the scene was over. Not only is she Casey's grandma, she knows exactly what's wrong with her granddaughter, because she too had a twin brother, only he died as a result of human experiments at Auschwitz. At this point I thought I gave myself whiplash from the double take. Sofi explains that a Jewish demon, a dybbuk, has possessed the dead fetal twin's spirit and is trying to enter corporeal existence through Casey. Apparently, this makes sense.

Sofi points her granddaughter in the direction of a rabbi to perform a Jewish exorcism, which I guess means there will be less bile and more phlegm. The Jewish aspect is particularly stressed throughout the film, perhaps as a last-ditch effort to differentiate it from another terrible installment in the Exorcist franchise. A priest (Idris Elba) does show up near the end, but he's Episcopalian, so it's still different. The rabbi is played by Gary Oldman, presumably led right off the Dark Knight via a line of snacks until he stopped under a giant box propped up by a stick. He strikes a horrifying balance between scenery-chewing and phoning it in, giving one of the weakest performances of his career (and so soon after he proved how great he can be even without the manic energy in The Dark Knight).

The second and third acts of The Unborn take it from harmless camp into absurd territory. The endless talk of Kabbalah extracts, dybbuks and the sort-of difference between Jewish and Catholic exorcisms (do demons really have denominations?) just grinds everything to a halt, and Goyer relies so heavily on his poorly animated jump-scares that most of the film features no music at all; there isn't enough time to bring the music back up before dropping it for the next "Boo!" moment. Yet his ghosts and possessed people are just so ridiculous, just so played out and overdone, that there isn't a frightening moment in the entire film, with the exception of the news that this skimpily dressed moron is pregnant by the film's end. It's meant to make us wonder if the dybbuk will return one day, but even if it doesn't, the retard spawn of this fool and her dumber boyfriend will assuredly wind up the victim of some other monster or knife-wielding maniac.

I'm a pushover when it comes to horror, but not once did I feel anything in this film other than boredom. I admit, I did turn the sound down, because I find jump-scares tiresome and cheap. Where Sam Raimi can make them work because he sees the absurdity of them, Goyer believes he's really keeping us on the edge. Combined with lines like, "Are you familiar with the term 'genetic mosaicism?'" The Unborn comes so close to so-bad-it's-good that it's all the more frustrating that it merely stops at thoroughly bad.

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