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No matter what you do to dress it up a remake is still a remake, a copy is just a copy and a bootleg is just a bootleg.  So despite a pedigree featuring the writer who helped press the restart button on the Batman franchise and the inclusion of two acclaimed, award-winning actors, The Unborn is never more than a wholesale knockoff of The Exorcist and a bloody lame one at that.

I’m not gonna waste too much time with this one.  A strangely religion-specific demon keeps it in the family by haunting the nubile Casey Beldon, granddaughter of a concentration camp victim who drove the nasty phantom away decades earlier.  The pro-Semitic demon then tried having its way with Casey‘s mum, resulting in mummy’s commitment and eventual felo-de-se.  Lucky for the poltergeist, he gets another crack at the family and possession of a living host thanks to Casey‘s limpid morals, and Casey has to fight to save herself and her nearest and dearest who apparently are all fair game if they get in the boogieman’s way.

I feel the need to quote one of my editors, the offhandedly brilliant Sir Robert Bald, whose immediate reaction upon the rise of the credits was, “All it needed was the pea soup.”  It might be lazy of me, but really, that’s the movie.  A tepid mess of a film filled with half-cooked notions of a new scary movie monster that fails utterly at any originality or actual frights.  Besides the Exorcist, The Unborn unsuccessfully pinches from Ju-On/The Grudge and The Blair Witch Project yet never manages to be anything other than thrice reheated, toothless and tedious.  Bugs, human waste, cheap-looking, opaque blue contact lenses sported by the demon and assorted victims and the J-Horror chestnut of small extremely pale little phantom boys are employed with impunity.  The film relies on the old standby of the scary little tyke’s shrieking face leaping out at you from every conceivable hiding place. Note to filmmakers, the audience won’t jump as high after the first dozen applications.

What really struck me about The Unborn, outside of my astonishment that Gary Oldman, Jane Alexander and Carla Gugino had attached themselves to this tripe, was the ham-fisted and strident attempt to make a Semitic version of The Exorcist utterly free of innovation or actual frights.  There’s not an original idea or a truly scary moment in the entire piece.  Instead of good old Pazuzu, they employ Dybbuk, a demon from Jewish folklore (- and the subject of a brilliant song by Gackt) and the exorcism follows Hebrew ritual as is laid out to the audience in exhaustive exposition.  At one point, the previously irreligious Casey huffily sniffs to Oldman’s Rabbi Sendak, “I don’t want some Christian exorcism!”  Besides immediately becoming one of my quotes of the year (- already), this sums up the motive and the failure of the film:  Why wouldn’t you want one?  It worked for Linda Blair!  There is the pointed inclusion of an Episcopal reverend (- Apparently, Papists need not apply); who is some kind of specialist on exorcisms though he’s never actually performed one.  Well, that’s helpful.  He’s only there to become possessed by the Dybbuk and terrorise poor Casey.  The problem with the whole exorcism scene is a little earlier on in the film, we see the Dybbuk step to Rabbi Sendak in his temple and clearly awareness of Oldman’s innate awesomeness has transcended the supernatural world because all Rabbi Sendak does is tell the demon to go away - and it does!  Just like that.  After seeing that, one wonders what the point of doing this whole drawn out exorcism is, but then that’s exactly my thought about the whole movie.

Along with Oldman (- a true mensch to do such a big solid for Batman Begins/The Dark Knight’s David Goyer, the writer/director responsible for this mess), Gugino, and the excellent Jane Alexander (- who has the only mildly creepy sequence in the film), Idris Elba from The Wire is also wasted here.  Odette Yustman is perfectly lovely as our damsel in distress, but her terminally vacant expression and painfully languid movements only add to the film’s lethargic pacing.  The only spark of life comes from Meagan Good as the stereotypically spunky best friend, who doesn’t have the sense to get the heck out of Dodge once she realises the demon is targeting Casey’s friends.  Twilight fans may end up watching this for the sight of a ponytail-free, frequently shirtless Cam Gigandet as Casey’s protection-shy boyfriend.  Other than that, I don’t know why anyone else would bother.

I’m going to wind this up by co-opting another insightful quote, this time from a young lady exiting the film who quipped to her companion, “That wasn’t not scary at all.” 



~ The Lady Miz Diva

Jan. 9th, 2009




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