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MOVIE REVIEW

'The Unborn'

David Goyer's horror film with Odette Yustman and Gary Oldman nods to 'The Exorcist' but proves long-winded despite its brief running time.

January 09, 2009|Glenn Whipp

Perhaps unhappy that Catholics get to throw all those exorcism parties in the movies, David Goyer gives us a demon story in "The Unborn" infused with Jewish folklore, the Kabbalah and, gulp, the memory of Auschwitz. By that description, you'd think the result would be unintentionally funny, deeply offensive or some combination of the two.

Mostly, though, the movie is something of a snooze, a gabby PG-13 horror flick whose most shocking image might be the bored look on Gary Oldman's face as he goes through the motions of playing the rabbi in charge of dispatching the film's damnable demon to somewhere over hell's rainbow.

Goyer, writer of the "Blade" series and co-writer of Christopher Nolan's "Batman" movies, begins "The Unborn" with what looks to be your garden-variety plotline about an unborn twin reaping revenge on his surviving sibling. But Goyer has a different agenda in mind, one that could be called more ambitious if it didn't become so progressively incoherent over the course of the movie's mercifully brief 88 minutes.

The first half-hour of the film finds hot college babe Casey ("Cloverfield's" Odette Yustman) haunted by a succession of freaky dreams, most of which involve either potato bugs or an intense, pasty-faced little boy sporting a bad haircut. Since "The Unborn" is a Michael Bay production and because Yustman nicely fits the Bay prototype for femininity (i.e., she has graced the pages of Maxim magazine), Casey also spends much of this time either showering or parading around in her underwear, the latter being so tight that you'd imagine it'd pose severe circulatory problems.

But then, Casey has other things to worry about. The movie's troubles begin in earnest when Goyer curtails the quick-cut horror images in favor of windy exposition, offering up convoluted explanations for his heroine's dilemma that become increasingly wearisome to follow. These accounts involve oddly colored eyes, missing blue mittens, a couple of suicides and a neighbor boy doing his best imitation of the kid from "The Shining," murmuring something about "Jumby wants to be born . . . now."

Goyer borrows liberally from "The Exorcist" and dips into the Kubrick playbook on occasion too, hauling out an eye speculum for our poor Casey. More unfortunately, he delivers up Jane Alexander as a Holocaust survivor offering the key to Casey's chances against full-on dybbuk (demon) possession. "It has fallen on you to finish vhat began in Auschwitz," Alexander gravely intones in a wildly exaggerated accent.

About the only thing here that will haunt your dreams is the film's final scene, which conveniently portends a sequel, something along the lines of "The Born: Jumby's Revenge." Now there's true terror, my friends.

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'The Unborn'

MPAA rating PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror, disturbing images, thematic material and language, including some sexual references.

Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Playing: In general release

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