Exorcism blues: Cam Gigandet and Odette Yustman in The Unborn.
Young actress Odette Yustman (Cloverfield) is in nearly every scene of The Unborn,
as her character, Chicago college student Casey Beldon, quickly learns
some fateful secrets regarding her family tree—starting out with the
fact that she’s not an only child, because her twin brother died long
ago in utero. Her dad (B-movie vet James Remar, who’s only in two brief
scenes) thought it best not to divulge the past, which also includes
ramifications concerning the death of Casey’s institutionalized mom
(Carla Gugino). Oh yeah, one of Casey’s peepers has just turned a
different color, a common trait among twins known as heterochromia,
according to this movie’s doctor character (“Are you familiar with the
term genetic mosaicism?” the doc asks a confused Casey).
Meanwhile, a weird neighborhood kid named Matty (Atticus
Shaffer) keeps confronting Casey with the phrase “Jumby wants to be
born,” there are flashbacks regarding the Auschwitz death camp
experiments conducted by the mad Nazi Josef Mengele, and a frightened
Holocaust survivor (Jane Alexander) holds more long-held information
for Casey, who has been plagued by nightmarish hallucinations involving
satanic potato bugs. Oy vey, it’s time to call for the exorcist, and a
mild-mannered Windy City rabbi (a restrained Gary Oldman) turns up
about 45 minutes into The Unborn’s running time to heal Casey’s increasing traumas.
Goyer’s busy script is bustling with colliding subtexts, with references to the Third Reich and The Dybbuk,
and his themes help distract moviegoers from the reality that his own
movie often makes little narrative sense, as Casey just wanders from
one horrific set piece to the next. While actress Yustman is watchable
as her character is put through the emotional wringer, it becomes
clearer that beyond the film’s dollops of Jewish mysticism and
folkloric underpinnings, The Unborn frustrates because Goyer wants it to be far more than the usual teen-beat fodder. But he can’t quite seal the deal.
Bland and bloodless (all the better to earn an audience-friendly rating), the camera looks away during The Unborn’s cinematic carnage, although the lens seems to drool and ogle whenever Yustman is wearing super-tight undies. (The Unborn
may also be the first PG-13 to feature a nightclub bathroom’s glory
hole as a plot wrinkle.) Goyer also tosses in a few homages to horror
classics, such as the aural jolt of a whooshing elevated train; it’s a
nod to the shock effect from 1942’s Cat People, a reference
that today’s teen audiences won’t connect to that earlier film,
although old poops like me, at least, appreciate the effort.