Demons and stuff. Not a remake.
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The Unborn (2009)
11th Mar 09
Generic teen babe terrorised by malevolent spirit, scary kids and a wildly hamming actor blowing an over-sized horn. It’s not a remake.
With Friday The 13th a hit and Nightmare On Elm Street in the works, Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes are firmly established (like it or not) as purveyors of commercially successful horror remakes. The Unborn is their first attempt at a PG-13 horror that isn’t a direct remake of an earlier hit - though writer-director David Goyer’s film is such a mishmash of elements from old horror flicks that calling it “original” would be a major stretch by any standard. A bit like calling Orlando Bloom an “actor”.
Goyer has considerable experience in and out of the genre: as a screenwriter his C.V. stretches all the way from The Dark Knight through to the Blade trilogy and down to Puppet Master Vs Demonic Toys. This is his first attempt at a straight-forward scary genre picture but, in playing the whole thing so sincerely and trying so hard to be frightening (boy, does this film try hard!), The Unborn comes off as overwrought beyond words…and frequently laugh out loud funny. In fact it’s so over the top that a camp cult following may be a future prospect. Much like Orlando Bloom.
Initially this is a film about leading lady Odette Yustman’s pert young arse. It was a key feature of the theatrical trailer and the theatrical poster, and here it is in all it’s glory on the big screen. As an actress, the greatest compliment we can pay Yustman is that she has a terrific arse. When the camera isn’t ogling her arse, it becomes tragically apparent that her thespian range stretches to a single facial expression of the kind you might sport if slightly worried about breaking wind in a busy lift. Goyer knows this, so lingers on her arse in jogging bottoms and finds at least two extended, flimsy excuses to shoot her in arse-hugging little white panties. If you’re in this to lech over someone attractively wooden, leave after the first half-hour and enjoy some good old fashioned self-abuse in the privacy of your own home.
Beyond the arse is a script that is total arse and plays like the work of a madman. A farcical, escalating series of revelations, noisy jump scares and outrageously contrived twists, it is astonishing to behold. Aside from Yustman, Cam Gigandet (in a rare, dramatically under-written nice-guy role as her boyfriend) and an ill-fated superstitious black best friend, all the other characters exist to move the plot from A to B by spouting reams of hokey exposition. It’s the kind of horror movie where a character will be hastily introduced just so he or she can say something like “Ooh, did no one ever tell you that you have a hideously disfigured, cannibalistic, in-bred, hare-lipped, devil-worshipping step-brother?”.
At the outset, Yustman is having spooky dreams about a creepy little ghostly boy and a peculiar human-faced dog (a visual quote from The Mephisto Waltz or, maybe, the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers ). She also has a creepy babysitting experience with a different creepy kid who warns, in a creepy fashion, “He wants to be born now”. When her irises take on different colours spontaneously, it is clear something creepy is going on.
Dad James Remar (shockingly wasted) has hitherto neglected to tell her that she is a surviving twin; her unborn brother died of umbilical cord strangulation in the womb. This event - and the involvement of an evil spirit - drove her mom (Carlo Gugino, even more wasted) to madness and suicide. Think that’s enough crazy back-story for one character? Wait till you meet Yustman’s Granma - Auschwitz survivor whose own twin was embroiled in sinister Nazi genetic experiments (!!).
Given all of this, who on Earth are you going to call? If this movie were a straight-to-DVD affair, you would inevitably turn to Brad Dourif or Lance Henriksen. It’s not, so welcome on-board payday-seeking professional slummer Gary Oldman as a rabbi who declares exorcism to be the only answer. The fact that said exorcism, when it happens, involves Oldman blowing on a comically enormous animal horn for no satisfying reason, is somehow unsurprising given what unfolds in the rest of the film.
Goyer manages some eerie moments near the start and occasionally his in-your-face approach to shock tactics will make you jump in spite of yourself: prepare to curse your own stupidity at a grudgingly effective bathroom cabinet jolt. The movie, however, is so busy at throwing everything at its audience in a bid to be scary that it quickly turns into a kind of bizarrely watchable cinematic sideshow.
Thrown in to the mix, often at random, are icky bugs, infant death, a dog with its head on upside down, Gugino turning into a faceless toothy monster, lots of Asian horror-influenced scares, a quick succession of possessions in the vein of 80’s body-hopping horrors, too many dream scares to count, two creepy kids for the price of one, jaw-droppingly bad-taste use of the Holocaust as a plot point, and even a telegraphed twist that needs a montage (“We’re gonna need a montage!”) to explain itself! At the point where an elderly stroke victim performs a variation on Linda Blair’s Exorcist spider-walk to chase Jane Alexander around a convalescent home, his head crudely rotating as he does so, you will realise that subtlety got the first bus home. And then probably indulged in some self-abuse.
The Exorcist nods are obvious but Goyer also throws in a rip-off of classic moments from either (depending on his reference point) Don’t Look Now or Communion , involving a knife-wielding kid in a rain slicker. It’s a total mess: clunky, ripe with bad dialogue and all-round silliness…but the production values are high, KNB’s FX work fun to watch (less so the CG embellishments) and the movie as a whole has an undeniable train-wreck curiosity value. Consider that a cautious recommendation.