It’s a bad sign when the predominant reactions to a horror movie are sarcastic shout outs and hysterical laughter. Contrary to expectations, The Unborn delivers the unintentional laughs but not the scares. It’s beginning to look like horror movies aren’t supposed to be scary anymore.
Strange things are happening to teenager Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman). In a weird dream she encounters a silent, eerie looking child, a dog wearing a mask, and a fetus in a jar. Her dream quickly spills into real life because Casey begins seeing and hearing things. While babysitting her neighbor’s children, one of them whispers a cryptic message to her: “Jumby wants to be born now.”
The dream child pops up wherever Casey goes. Maybe her eyes are playing tricks on her, but for certain her eyes have changed color. Her doctor tells her the discoloration results from a genetic condition associated with twins. Could Casey be a twin? She learns from her father that she did indeed have a twin brother who died in her mother’s womb. Grief stricken, Casey’s depressed mother was sent to a psychiatric hospital where she eventually committed suicide. Or did she?
At this point the plot takes a nose dive. Convinced she is being haunted, Casey investigates her mother’s past for clues and uncovers more than she bargained for — and more than the audience I sat with could swallow without groaning out loud. The mysterious and other worldly events are explained to her by her previously unknown grandmother who spins an outlandish tale involving Nazi concentration camp experiments, Jewish mysticism, malevolent spirits called Dybbuks, and possession. Does anything sound familiar? It should. Familiar, and given the way the director handles it, screamingly funny as well.
It’s common for filmmakers to borrow from other movies — we see it all the time, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that practice. After all coming up with original ideas to scare people with is difficult and not exactly encouraged by the major studios (they tend to finance new horror projects that follow financially successful formulas from the past). Currently, many directors and screenwriters are still enthralled by the Asian New Wave style that first surfaced here with the American remake of Japan’s, The Ring. As a result, in The Unborn we get all the elements of Asian horror — the pale-faced scary kid with the dead stare; grossly contorted people; and creepy film footage, and that is in addition to other tried and true storylines and devices such as exorcisms, mental illness, and evil spirits.
So at the very least a filmmaker using well-tread storylines and established scare tactics should use them well. But that doesn’t happen. Director/writer David S. Goyer slaps the clichés together without any logic, reason, or creative reinterpretation. In the end, all we get is a nonsensical, sloppy mess.
Poorly conceived, acted, and executed, The Unborn starts the horror genre off on the wrong foot this year. Hopefully, it’s not a harbinger of other horror movies to come in 2009.