Title: The Unborn
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery
Director: David S. Goyer
Screenwriters: David S. Goyer
Starring: Odette Annable, Gary Oldman, Cam Gigandet
As best I can tell, The Unborn has two things going for it. The first is its creepy, clever premise: that a twin brother who dies in the womb appears two decades later and demands to be born. The second is Gary Oldman.
It takes just over half an hour for the film to squander the clever premise. The twin brother idea is interesting — he wants to be born, and might be angry at his sister for having lived instead of him, but wouldn’t he have a measure of fraternal affection? The Unborn, however, pulls a bait-and-switch. It’s not really Casey Beldin’s brother that’s haunting her, we quickly learn, but a generic malevolent spirit who has been tormenting her family for generations. And God knows we’ve seen that before.
Gary Oldman remains an asset. He is, of course, one of the greatest actors of any generation, with an unparalleled ability to disappear into any role. (In fact, The Unborn gives a rare glimpse of what he “really” looks like.) Great actors tearing into schlocky material can be highly entertaining. And indeed, watching Oldman don a yarmulke and attempt a Hebrew exorcism — which begins with him enthusiastically blowing through a huge glitter-adorned animal horn — is a unique pleasure that I’m confident only this film offers.
Other than that, The Unborn is kind of an embarrassment. It’s one of those completely arbitrary horror films that drives me up a wall. The villainous spirit can seemingly inhabit anyone; do anything; violate every law of science to possess, torment and/or kill whomever it wants. Why it’s after Casey and her family in particular is never quite made clear. There are no reasons and no rules: just a lot of jump scares (a few of which, I admit, work rather well).
The film seems to be going for a cold and brooding elegance, but it doesn’t have the patience. It just moves stupidly from one set piece to another (Casey finds a canned fetus in a dream; then she’s cooking breakfast and inexplicably finds a bug in one of her eggs; etc.), occasionally stopping for some lazy exposition (newspaper clippings, a batty old lady). Odette Yustman is, alas, a fairly terrible actress, giving the proceedings a hysterical quality that disrupts the movie’s attempt at mood.
It’s not clear why David S. Goyer, who’s had a hand in some amazing films in the past decade (Dark City, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight), took on this cheesy, chintzy little project. It seems to be a tradition for a third-rate PG-13 horror film to occupy the first weekend of every new year. The Unborn actually isn’t quite as weak as last year’s One Missed Call, but it’s still exactly what you’d expect from the combination of its release date, genre, and MPAA rating.