Kevin's Review: The Unborn - Better To Not Haven Been Born At All
by Kevin Powers
January 9, 2009
Well before the release of writer/director David Goyer's The Unborn, the Dark Knight-scribe talked of a possible sequel to the dybbuk scare -- an opportunity, he said, to go deeper into the origins of the spirit haunting lead Odette Yustman (Cloverfield). Now that the film has come forth, any idea of continuing the story should be aborted posthaste. With its impaired speech, unusual movements and awkward sense of sexuality, The Unborn is a deformed film unbecoming of Goyer. While his directing background is limited, Goyer has some formidable writing credibility. However, none of that talent is inherited by The Unborn; and despite an intriguing premise, would have been better not to have been born at all.
From the outset, you get the impression that the film is one to hunker down with -- to study the elements and appreciate the slow-paced storytelling and the careful framing. Casey (Yustman) is quietly out for a jog when she notices a solitary blue glove laying in her path. Picking it up, she then encounters a young boy with similarly blue eyes, who in a blink turns into an ominous dog donning a mask. It's creepy imagery and appropriately paced, but the reverence for Goyer's style quickly falls away as the director shows all of his cards, revealing his reliance on trite tactics of the genre. A bevy of useless scenes come at you, literally, in order to incite a scare. The screeching brakes of a subway train suddenly come into frame; the ghostly child's face lunges at your view for no reason at all. And when the chips are down, Goyer sloppily hurries through scenes seemingly violating his own rules of the story. If the dybbuk, the evil spirit following Casey, wants to be reborn through her, why is it violently attacking her? And if it can inhabit anyone's body, what's with all the foreplay?
Titillating the audience is clearly on Goyer's mind, considering his brazen use of sex-selling in the film. Can you recall a hotter horror couple than Casey and Mark (Cam Gigandet)? As Casey continues to battle her dreams and hallucinations of the dead boy, whom she soon learns is actually her fraternal twin who died in childbirth, her bathroom mirror becomes ground zero. In the story, mirrors (and twins) are gateways -- "the doorway is open" is repeated numerous times -- which affords many a scene of Casey waking up in the middle of the night in her taught undies to investigate. Such sequences were seemingly important enough for Goyer to even have it on the official poster for the film. Sex sells, after all. You can chalk up pointless scenes of Mark shirtless or the disconnect when Casey says she needs fresh air (and she actually goes to take a sexy shower) to sloppy convention. But the use of a glory hole as a conduit for evil is wholly unorthodox. Maybe Goyer is trying to tell us something about public sex. Doubtful. However, an intention like that would have made more sense.
As Yustman tries to manifest the needed emotion for Casey's character, it becomes clear that the actress and the film's writing has limited range. You see Casey's world collapsing around her, but you wouldn't know it by reading Yustman's face. And you would think she'd be really upset, considering that she knows so much about what afflicts her. Playing a well-worn card of genre, Goyer includes extended scenes wherein Casey recites clearly and calming what's happening and what's next. Just in case the audience wasn't keeping up. When she takes an ancient tome to Rabbi Sendak (Gary Oldman) asking for an exorcism, she confidently informs him to translate the text to perform the ceremony, despite either knowing how to read Hebrew. And when she fills her best friend in on why she broke all the mirrors in her house, you get the distinct feeling Casey is reading from the book "How-To: A Guide to Defeating the Dead Evil Twin Who Wants My Uterus."
Goyer has clearly (and disappointingly) miscarried with The Unborn. While I appreciate leveraging real folklore, creating a notable scare or two, and convincing the wonderful Gary Oldman (and Idris Elba) to join the cast, there's just so much to dislike about this film. "I want a Catholic exorcism!" Casey blandly demands, as if she's picking from a Chinese menu. Let's hope this experience will at least exercise whatever deluded demon inhabited Goyer, and convince the studio to wear protection next time. We don't need another one like this running around.