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Dustin Putman

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The Unborn  (2009)
1 Star
Directed by David S. Goyer.
Cast: Odette Yustman, Gary Oldman, Cam Gigandet, Meagan Good, Idris Elba, Jane Alexander, Rhys Coiro, Carla Gugino, James Remar, Atticus Shaffer, Ethan Cutkosky.
2009 – 88 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, disturbing images, thematic material and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, January 9, 2009.
As unbelievable as it may sound, "The Unborn" is such a terrible mess that it makes one nostalgic for last year's first horror release, "One Missed Call." The film confounds, not only because its plot is such jumbled nonsense, but because its writer-director, David S. Goyer, was previously responsible for penning the script to 2005's "Batman Begins" and helming 2007's thoughtful supernatural drama "The Invisible." All that Goyer has had going for him in the past has been safely locked away here, and what is left is a plodding spookshow that copies off far superior genre efforts while never locating a point or, at the very least, a connectable thematic undercurrent to its cavalcade of ominous imagery.

Chicago college student Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman) has had a nightmare involving a missing glove, a dog wearing a paper mache mask, and a buried fetus. It leaves her unsettled, to be sure, but it's just a dream, right? Before long, Casey is faced with inexplicable occurrences happening in her waking hours. A young boy (Atticus Shaffer) she is babysitting tells her, "Jumby wants to be born now," before smashing a mirror across her face. A spectral boy (Ethan Cutkosky) leaps out of her medicine cabinet at her, and then disappears. Potato bugs attack her in a nightclub restroom. Pressing her widowed father (James Remar) for details—her clinically depressed mother (Carla Gugino) committed suicide several years earlier—Casey discovers that she had a twin brother who died in utero. Elderly Holocaust survivor Sofi Kozma (Jane Alexander), who has ties to Casey's mother yet to be discovered, explains that an ancient spirit with the power of possession could very well have been attempting to cross over into the real world by way of her unborn sibling. With him passing away in the womb, it has chosen Casey as its next logical doorway to being born.

"The Unborn" is a mishmash of half-formed ideas more asinine and exploitative than frightening. Connecting Casey's plight with fictional events occurring decades earlier in Auschwitz is all well and good, but it lacks a valid explanation. The characters—and the actors—never escape singular dimension, sleepwalking through scenes and barely bothering to look alarmed by what is happening around them. The number of times Casey waltzes around in skimpy underwear and splashes water on her face are so numerous that it becomes laughable. The same could be said for the amount of times ghost children dart at the camera and scream, as if the viewer is supposed to recoil in fear or be shocked rather than call the film out on its laziness. Meanwhile, Casey and best friend Romy (Meagan Good) are only in college, yet they appear to live in large, voluminous homes by themselves. It is better to be terrorized that way, one supposes. Even as Casey's world collapses around her and she becomes convinced that she is being possessed by otherworldly forces, her boyfriend Mark (Cam Gigandet) is missing in action for most of it, no reason given for his absence.

More a series of would-be scare sequences than a proper narrative, the film continues down a path riddled with plot holes and tactics stolen from other movies. When nursing home resident Sofi is chased down stairways and through hallways by an old man on four legs, his head twisted around backwards, there isn't another sign of life anywhere around them. Is this one of those nursing homes where there is no one on duty overnight? Later, when Romy is paid a visit by a knife-wielding terror in a rain slicker, it is a blatantly shameless aping of 1973's brilliant "Don't Look Now." As Casey loses it, breaking all the mirrors in her home and seeking the aid of Rabbi Sendak (Gary Oldman), the picture becomes a silly Jewish version of "The Exorcist." As chants are recited and a Shofar is blown, the climax earns nothing but unintended laughter at the levels of lunacy on display. It is probably best to not even get into the scene where Casey finds a glory hole in a bathroom stall and opts to investigate it.

Not to be outdone, the performances are uniformly awful. Odette Yustman (2008's "Cloverfield") is a blank slate as heroine Casey Beldon, so underdeveloped and emotionally rigid that it is impossible to feel anything for her. Yustman wanders around lost for the bulk of the picture, ill-equipped to carry a movie on her shoulders. Gary Oldman (2008's "The Dark Knight"), apparently having lost a bet, looks flabbergasted to even be in such a low-rent affair. His role of Rabbi Sendak appears to have been shot over a long weekend, and all he gets in return is lighting equipment literally thrown at him. Meagan Good (2008's "Saw V") is stuck playing the sassy black friend of Casey, supportive yet skeptical. Cam Gigandet (2008's "Twilight") is bereft of charisma as boyfriend Mark, and equally bereft of motivation.

Cinematography by James Hawkinson (2007's "The Hitcher") is glossy and at times appropriately atmospheric in its on-location Chicago lensing, but that is one of the few things "The Unborn" has going for it. This is a spectacularly amateurish (and, it should be said, PG-13-rated) horror film, poorly directed and incomprehensible in much of its writing. The story goes nowhere of interest while dealing with characters who would feel empty even in a "Friday the 13th" sequel. Genuine scares and suspense are nonexistent. The mind reels at the thought that distributor Rogue Pictures thought the finished product was worthy of a big-screen release rather than some hefty reshoots and creative overhauling. At least the title is accurate; this junk is stillborn all the way.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman