by Mel Valentin
Just when you thought it was safe to venture back to your local multiplex, along comes "The Unborn," the latest “J-horror’-styled release from a major studio. In this case, however, the “J” in “J-Horror” doesn’t stand for “Japanese,” but for “Jewish.” Written and directed by David S. Goyer ("The Invisible," "Batman Begins," the "Blade" trilogy), "The Unborn" borrows its supernatural elements from Jewish folklore, specifically the “Dybbuk,” a malevolent, body-possessing spirit, and a Jewish-styled exorcism (who knew they existed?). Featuring not one but two creepy, pale-faced kids (one’s actually alive, though) and several fascinating ideas and a handful of disturbing images (all of which, alas, you’ve seen already in the TV ads), and a scantily clad lead actress, "The Unborn" doesn’t mine new genre territory beyond the aforementioned Jewish folklore, but manages to squeeze half a dozen decent jump scares into its brisk, sub-90-minute running time.More than a decade after the suicide of her mother, Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman) is still searching for the reasons for her mother’s death. Her father, Gordon (James Remar), offers only the barest of explanations, clinical depression, before shutting down Casey’s inquiries. Casey, however, begins to have nightmares involving a blue glove, a mask-wearing dog (yes, you read that correctly), a creepy, pale-skinned, blue-eyed boy ((Ethan Cutkosky), and a fetus in a jar (again, you read that correctly). Casey’s best friend, Romy (Meagan Good), reaches for a nearby dream book to explain Casey’s dreams. Casey’s supportive boyfriend, Mark Hardigan (Cam Gigandet), does what supportive boyfriends always do: he listens, but doesn’t believe; he offers Casey emotional support, but can’t take the leap of faith necessary to believe something supernatural may be amiss.
"A Jewish exorcism is good for the soul (but not much else)."
After Matty Nelson (Atticus Shaffer), a boy in Casey’s care (she baby-sits part-time), attacks Casey with a hand-sized mirror and creepily informs Casey that, “Jumby wants to be born now,” she visits an eye doctor, who notices her different colored eyes. The doctor suggests that Casey was a twin; a fact Casey confirms when she visits her father. Rummaging through a box of her mother’s belongings, Casey finds a yellowed newspaper article about a Holocaust survivor, Sofi Kozma (Jane Alexander), a woman Casey’s mother, Janet (Carla Gugino), visited before she committed suicide. Sofi briefs Casey on the Dybbuk and its desire to be reborn in our world through Casey. Sofi suggests Casey contact Rabbi Sendak (Gary Oldman), to help her exorcize the Dybbuk. Like Mark, Rabbi Sendak is skeptical of Casey’s claims until the dybuk decides to pay him a personal visit at his synagogue.
From that point onward, it’s easy, sometimes too easy, to figure where The Unborn is going, from the PG-13 set pieces (some violence, sure, blood and gore, definitely not), to the loss of expendable, superfluous characters (you know who they are the moment they appear onscreen), and on through to the obligatory, sequel-ready ending (unlikely, but Goyer can always hope). Without a doubt, The Unborn is formulaic, predictable, and, on more than one occasion, clichéd. Characters lack depth, the mystery behind the Dybbuk’s connection to Casey and her family revealed early, leaving little room for suspense outside of the mechanistic, supernaturally energized set pieces, each one competently directed, but not much else.As for the performances, Odette Yustman is certainly easy on the eyes, something Goyer exploits multiple times through gratuitous underwear shots (and one shower scene), and she shows some emotive range, but more often than not, Goyer’s screenplay asks her to stand around, ask questions, and furrow her eyebrows as she contemplates the latest bit of information. Unsurprisingly (we are talking a January release here, after all), the remainder of the cast competently handles their roles, but fail to leave any impression. Carla Gugino and Gary Oldman, well-known, accomplished actors, are mostly wasted in underwritten roles (Gugino appears in several wordless flashbacks). Most likely appearing in "The Unborn" as a personal favor to Goyer, Oldman is on hand to provide background information about Jewish folklore and Jewish mysticism, but only becomes an active contributor to "The Unborn" at the climax.
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originally posted: 01/09/09 02:41:32