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Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – The Unborn (2009)

My notes on The Unborn (2009)

An instance of the more-is-less school of horror, The Unborn combines several basic situations which might make for a solid, scary, involving picture by themselves. It falls apart simply because piling so many perils onto one feeble heroine makes for a movie which becomes excessively gigglesome as it straggles towards its furious ending.

Fashion-model thin Chicago student Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman), is haunted – in no particular order – by a dybbuk (a demon from Jewish lore) who latched on to her family in Auschwitz, a spontaneous change in her eye-colour which relates to Dr Mengele’s experiments on twins, her own still-born brother who resents being strangled in utero by her umbilical cord (comics fan writer-director David S. Goyer might well have lifted this from Grant Morrison’s ‘Cassandra Nova’ storyline in X-Men), a creepy neighbour kid-cum-dybbuk host (Atticus Shaffer) who whispers ominous words (‘Jumby wants to be born’) to her and kills his baby sister with a hand mirror, spectral apparitions which loom out of the limbo beyond the mirror (the fourth evil mirror movie in as many months, this delivers the most tiresomely protracted set-up for a regulation bathroom-cabinet jump gambit), her dead-by-suicide-in-an-insane-asylum mother (Carla Gugino), dogs with their heads on upside-down or wearing human masks (cf: The Mephisto Waltz, but with CGI), geriatrics who become killer contortionists when possessed (cf Exorcist III), and supernatural winds which harry the hardline ten-person exorcism team assembled by a Rabbi (Gary Oldman) and an episcopal priest (Idris Elba). Plus, she discovers her grandmother (Jane Alexander) is a Holocaust survivor who calls her up at midnight to gabble backstory about Mengele and the dybbuk, has a fond father (James Remar) who takes no notice at all of her problems, gets away with stealing (and destroying) a valuable how-to book on Jewish exorcism from a library, has surreal bad dreams involving any or all of her problems when things threaten to slow down momentarily, loses her token best friend (Megan Good) to a dybbuk attack to keep the body count at acceptably high modern movie levels, and has plainly been knocked up by her nice guy boyfriend (Cam Gigandet – going against his total bastard image from Never Back Down and Twilight, though he gets possessed for a while during the climax) to set up the inevitable uh-oh ending as an ultrasound scan shows that one of her babies is already scowling and EVIL.

Anyone as thin as Casey who wears underwear as tight as she does (she has a case of Kirk Douglas chin vagina) probably couldn’t have children so she need not worry. Goyer — following up the scrappy Blade: Trinity and the more focused The Invisible — stages a few scenes well enough as derivative horror movies go, but his script is astonishingly clumsy. Yustman (of Cloverfield) is not an engaging lead, and the supporting cast consists of strong actors keeping straight faces while waiting for the chcques to clear. A product of that Michael Bay house which has hitherto only produced remakes, this feels as if Goyer had set out to make something utterly generic on purpose – starting with a title that’s been used several times before (on a Roger Corman mutant picture and a Jewish drama), proceeding to shocks lifted from diverse sources (one gruesome-mawed spook woman looks like a Dick Smith effect famously cut from Ghost Story – which would be more impressive if the remake of House on Haunted Hill hadn’t copped the design first) and a basic Exorcist/Rosemary’s Baby narrative tarted up with gloomy chills and non sequiturs as if it were a remake of an Asian ghost story (it’s not related to the Korean Unborn But Forgotten). Like several recent horror films – The Strangers, the remake of Prom Night – it seems to be aimed at mid-teen audiences who haven’t seen any of the films it patchworks its story and scares from.

Discussion

One thought on “Film review – The Unborn (2009)

  1. Helen O’Hara
    I quite agree. Yustman was dreadful – and I was a bit worried about that library book as well.

    Charles Prepolec
    Saw it last Wednesday and I’d say you’ve nailed it. Potential for an intriguing story with the dybbuk element, but absolutely swamped by all the add-on bullshit and totally useless leads.

    CarrieAnne Atreides
    Thank you for the review, Kim. Nicely done. Disappointing about the movie. For religious horror, I did enjoy greatly the BBC’s miniseries ‘Apparitions’ with the wonderful Martin Shaw.

    Jim Burns
    Am I the only one who doesn’t get it about Martin Shaw? Perhaps you have to be a wimmin….

    Ben Adams
    What, c’mon . . . Martin Shaw as Doyle in The Professionals. A man’s man for the blokes and a ladyman for Bodie. More camp value than a holiday park.

    Lucius Shepard
    Between the Unborn and the Uninvited, I don’t know which is more Unsufferable…

    Kim Newman
    I did actually get the invitations for The Unborn and The Uninvited mixed up. I can’t understand why anyone would use a title that’s a) completely generic and b) has been used several times before. My favourite un-title is HP Lovecraft’s The Unnameable – though the film perversely gives its monster a name.

    Lucius Shepard
    I saw the Uninvited, a woeful remake of A Tale of Two Sisters, and retitled it the Unexciting…though I was tempted to call it the Uninvolving. There are so many Un- titles remaining Unexploited. The Unsavory, the Unappetizing, The Unwelcome, the Unlovely. the Unacceptable. the Unavoidable, etc. An Unending feasts of Uns awaits us.

    CarrieAnne Atreides
    As for The Uninvited, I’ll stick with Ray Milland!

    Simon John Ball
    Kirk Douglas chin vagina, must find a way to slip that into conversation

    Phil Newton
    Best heckle I’ve heard in the cinema for ages, just as Odette Yustman is smashing all the mirrors in her home…
    Odette: “It’s getting worse!”
    Audience member: “Yes, and so is your acting.”
    Cue much laughter.

    George White
    These were the films my classmates, usually female, like Prom Night and the Strangers would rave over.

    Posted by kimnewman | January 29, 2022, 9:34 am

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