The Unborn (2009)
By: Joe Lewis on February 28, 2009  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Poster Art
Director: David S Goyer
Starring: Gary Oldman, Odette Yustman, Meagan Good
Writer: David S Goyer
Country: USA
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Holy shit, was that Gary Oldman? Enjoy your cinematic fail, Sir.

Oldman – a once great actor – has hit rock bottom. Stop the presses. Set the flag at half-mast. Playing the local Jewish exorcist Rabbi Joseph Sendak in Platinum Dunes' newest entry into the American horror genre is the veritable nadir of a career peppered with brilliance like The Dark Knight, Sid & Nancy and JFK. Now don't get me wrong – perhaps I wouldn't go as far as to say I'm a fan of the Dunes, but their horror remake output has been, if nothing else, adequate – even entries like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Amityville Horror were very good ones.

But I was not expecting Oldman in something like The Unborn, one of the Dunes' most derivative, lacklustre and mindless films. At least with the remakes they tried the whole "reimagining" angle and hey, it worked. It worked well. It seems here that so excited were the bigwigs at the Dunes that they were making something that hadn't been directly committed to film before that they let their guard down. Down so far that they allowed David S Goyer to retain a gleeful stranglehold as writer/director and lift as many ideas from a whole platter of sources. We've got it all – J-horror and the supernatural (read:PG-13) atmosphere, and scenes so reminiscent of The Exorcist that William Peter Blatty should Hulk-rage and sue.

The Unborn introduces Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman), a young lass whose mother was an institutionalised nutter, and now finds herself blazing the same trail. Dreams of a wicked kid and a dog that can chuck a Regan better than Regan herself. Now, I'm going to do a very odd comparison here, but bear with me: if only the disturbed nymphettes of PG horror could behave more like Ricky Gervais in Ghost Town (bear with me, I said!) and adopt a healthy and rational scepticism in the face of the supernatural, malevolent or otherwise, then I wouldn't be so willing to write off films like The Unborn as utter shit, albeit of the repackaged variety. Instantaneous belief in the demonic paranormal, mainly because your best friend (Meagan Good) is a superstitious weirdo and your mother was a fruitcake? That's PG-horror, and that's The Unborn.

Casey discovers some weird shit about her parentage, including that she was the twin of her miscarried brother, and that her mother has an odd connection to an Auschwitz survivor. After unearthing an ancient manuscript written in Hebrew, she is convinced that she's possessed by a dybbuk, which can be found in Jewish folklore as (according to Wikipedia) "a malicious possessing spirit, believed to be the dislocated soul of a dead person". She takes the manuscript to Gary Oldman who ums-and-ahs about performing the exorcism this crazy bitch is pining for.

But I digress. The Unborn isn't horrendous. It's just boring. It checks every box so methodically that there truly isn't a saving grace – it's not as if the film stays with you once you've walked out of the cinema even if it dispenses some effective jump-scares. I saw it about three hours ago and I've had to reference Internet sites to write a cogent synopsis. Thing with these films is that they're just so redundant. With remakes you could argue that they serve to increase knowledge about the original, or make attempts at "reimagining" them. This is mass-produced, droning drivel, hastily tied together for a market that unfortunately spends good money on this sort of thing. You can rest assured that your hard-earned isn't going somewhere deserving. Seen The Grudge? Seen The Eye? You've seen this. Worse still are the sequences just shamelessly carbon copied from real movies, from the aforesaid Exorcist rip-offs to an "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" scene filmed in dreamy Freddy-cam.

I must admit, I also have a real thing against PG-13 horror cinema. My idea of a "horror" film isn't something that provides some remedial scares to support an oft-mirrored plot. It's to present a truly terrifying situation in the most harrowing way possible, for us to believe that we're involved in this situation. Unless the complete opposite is being actually tried for (like Haneke's Funny Games, a film whose message required the divorce of film and filmgoer), a movie is effective if the audience is lost in the material and can therefore genuinely sympathise with the characters and be, well, scared for them. By no means does this require graphic content and I'm not using "PG-13" here as a literal definition, rather an umbrella term for the sanitised products of the American horror machine that we've seen since it become intensely fashionable to remake/revision/pay homage to the Japanese supernatural films of the past decade. These "PG-13" films require zero audience interaction, zero sympathy, zero terror. And that just isn't a horror picture to me.

And seriously Gary, you having a fuckin' laugh?
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