The Unborn is yet another horror movie produced by Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes, which is best known for remaking greatly-remembered scary films. However, believe it or not, The Unborn does not appear to be a remake, despite the fact that there was a film released in 1991 with the same title. There does seem to be a premise here that the filmmakers actually decided to write all by themselves. So glad to see that Bay and his merry band of hacks are learning independence! The fact that Platinum Dunes actually backed a film with a new storyline should be worth celebrating by itself. Unfortunately, The Unborn is a premise that was thought up, but not really developed. In fact I would go so far to say that the storyline came out of the womb a little too prematurely and would have been better off remaining…..unborn (Yes it is uninspired title placement. Love it or hate it.)
The film stars Odette Yustman as Casey, a college students who spends her free time jogging through Chicago, hanging out with her boyfriend (Cam Gigandet), and walking around her bedroom in her tight-fitting panties and undershirt. She does not do this because it makes her comfortable, but so the prepubescent lads in the PG-13 crowd can go home excited with hope there is more masturbatory material on the unrated DVD. Suddenly strange things begin happening to her when she looks in mirrors. She sees a creepy, zombie-like boy baring his rotten teeth at her from his elongated mouth. Speaking of creepy kids, an odd little boy whom she baby-sits smacks Casey in the face with a mirror and possibly kills his baby sister.
When Casey tries to look for answers, she finds it may have something to do with her twin brother who died at child birth. She did not know he existed until her father (James Remar) informs her that he did indeed exist and that they nicknamed him “Jumby”. Considering that she keeps receiving mysterious messages proclaiming, “Jumby wants to be born”, there is the slightest possibility that her undead sibling has something to do with this. When looking for more answers she meets a Holocaust victim (Jane Alexander) who implies that the Nazis may have something to do with this as well. Whether or not any of this makes any sense or not, it is up to Casey to exorcise this demon, and the only man who can help her is a knowledgeable rabbi played by the great Gary Oldman.
As much as I love the horror genre and as much as I walked into the theater wanting to love this movie, it only served as a reminder of the rut that horror has fallen into. What was once a genre that tapped into our genuine fears has turned into a spineless showcase of PG-13 projects with cheap thrills. There is no doubt that The Unborn gave me an adrenaline rush, but this is not in a good way. Since the film does not have anything to truly frighten us, it instead hands us “jump out and scare you” moments. The audience seemed to really be affected by it, but it really does not take the slightest drop of creativity to use quick editing and an abrupt sound effect to make us jump out of our seat. It is like a pointless one night stand: you are thrilled for a brief moment, but go home with a sense of emptiness.
As for the casting, I am not really familiar with the work of Odette Yustman. She does not bring anything substantial to this role and that is not what I expected. Films like this call for young, bland performers, most of whom have spent unmemorable time on the WB. Yustman turns in the typical “female in distress” performance and we never truly empathize with her situation. There is also a handful of talented pros who clearly came on board for the paycheck. The most baffling is Gary Oldman who must have down time before they get another Batman installment off the ground. The Wire’s Idris Elba also swings by as an exorcising priest. Did I happen to mention Jane Alexander who conveniently comes in to provide the Holocaust as a possible reason for Casey’s hauntings? Because really, when you can’t determine the ultimate force behind an underlying mystery in your movie, just blame the freaking Nazis.
As I said before, I wanted to like The Unborn, but I was unsurprisingly let down. The premise really has potential and the filmmakers could have tweaked the screenplay and fleshed out the characters more to bring us genuinely terrifying moments. Director/ writer David S Goyer, who co-wrote the recent Batman films, should not stray too far from Christopher Nolan’s influence. After seeing his last directorial effort The Invisible and now this, I am convinced he is untalented as a director. However, if cheap thrills and CGI-heavy monsters are your thing, then maybe The Unborn will send chills up your spine. But when I find myself snickering quietly rather than feeling the fear, I can’t help but realize that the horror genre really needs to grow a pair and get with the program. That’s enough, Michael Bay!