The Unborn / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | January 10, 2009 | Comments ()
Of the many, many things that annoy me about teen-focused horror movies centered on the young, hot heroine (One Missed Call, Prom Night, The Haunting of Molly Hartley, The Eye, House of Wax), the one thing I may loathe the most is that fact that the young, hot heroine is almost always a whiny, insufferable bitch who is the last person you want to save. She whines and moans and why me’s her way through the movie, while her friends and family play hero, sacrificing themselves to protect her from evil spirits and boogeyman. And who dies? The friends and family. And who lives? The whiny, insufferable bitch, of course. What the hell happened to survival of the fittest? If the real world were a horror movie, it would be 75 percent Jessica Alba, while the other 25 percent would be comprised of guys with bad facial hair and near-fatal shoulder wounds.
The Unborn is the latest and one of the more egregious examples of this trend, and this one comes from the enigmatic David S. Goyer. I say enigmatic because I can’t figure the level of this man’s talent. He’s a terrible screenwriter (Blade II, Blade Trinity, Demonic Toys), except when he works with a more talented writer, like Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) or Alex Proyas (Dark City). My guess is that Goyer is an ideas man, and he’s fairly awful with the details. The Unborn further demonstrates that: It’s the first mainstream film that I know of that mines the dybbuk myth, which might make for a fairly good plot device if a better writer/director/cast had been involved. Unfortunately, beyond the dybubuk idea, The Unborn (to get the lame, horribly unclever pregnancy puns out of the way upfront) is a first-rate miscarriage, a cinematic abortion that should’ve never been conceived in the first place (did I leave out stillborn? Damnit).
Odette Yustman (Cloverfield, “October Road”) stars as Woman in Panties, a college student who lives at home and spends a lot of time in front of the mirror and/or jogging. Her mother (Carla Gugino) mysteriously committed suicide while institutionalized when Woman in Panties was just a Little Girl in Panties. One night while Woman in Panties is babysitting a creepy neighbor kid, the kid whacks her with a mirror, which does something weird to her eye, which in turn leads to the discovery that Woman in Panties was a twin; her twin brother died in utero. This is important only because the dybbuks are fond of twins for no real reason other than the fact that that’s how Goyer would like it. So, anyway, this dybbuk — an evil spirit that refuses to leave the human world and inhabits the body of a person because it can’t get into the gates of hell/heaven — starts tormenting her by appearing in Woman in Panties’ dreams, in her mirror, and — naturally — in dance club bathrooms (dybbuks love house music!)
Apparently, this dybbuk — who last inhabited the body of Woman in Panties’ Great Uncle, who was killed by her grandmother in Auschwitz — would really fucking like to inhabit Woman in Panties’ body, probably because he’s a Hanes Her Way kind of spirit. And instead of just jumping on in there, the dybbuk inhabits people around her, and then uses their bodies to scare the bejesus out of her. It doesn’t make a whole helluva lot of sense. Goyer is just kind of hoping that, if you stare at Woman in Panties ass long enough, you won’t sweat the details. It’s a fairly convincing ass; unfortunately, it’s terribly miscast. It should probably stick to Victoria’s Secret commercials, and leave the real asswork to Jessica Alba.
Anyway, Woman in Panties’ father is away on a business trip and apparently too busy to come home and help her daughter deal with the evil spirit trying to inhabit her body, so eventually Woman in Panties tracks down a Rabbi (Gary Oldman), and convinces him to drive away the dybbuk by reading some Hebrew passages and blowing a shofar, which is pretty goddamn entertaining if you can find joy in the indignifying acts of great actors (seriously: What the fuck, Oldman? Was it white boy day?) and then the dybbuk inhabits the body of Stringer Bell (Idris Elba), and everyone yells a lot of Hebrew from printed off copies of the exorcism manual at whatever body the dybbuk is inhabiting until it’s eventually driven back to hell in a very PG-13-like manner. Yay!
The Unborn is about on par with every other teenage horror flick to come out over the last few years, which is to say it’s dull, dumb, and plodding. In other words, it’s a great make-out movie. But, I’ll give Goyer this: He has a flair for visual effects; early on in The Unborn, there are some fairly creepy sequences involving the Auschwitz kid, who likes to curl himself up inside of medicine cabinets (those dybbuks! No accounting for comfort). Unfortunately, as the movie progresses, Goyer throws so many of these creepy effects at you that they lose their oomph, and after awhile, they’re fairly laughable (in fact, at the sold-out screening I attended, the audience — or at least those who remained past the half hour mark — alternated flinching and guffawing at the imagery, though by the end, half were shaking their head in exasperation). But, when Goyer wasn’t throwing dogs with upside down heads at you, he did have the good sense to point that camera at Woman in Panties’ ass, which doesn’t make for a very good horror film, but underwear aficionados may get a kick out of it.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives withi his wife and son in Portland, Maine You can reach him via email, or leave a comment below.