January 16, 2009

Movie Review: The Unborn

unborn2_largeDavid S. Goyer is a frustrating filmmaker. Not quite as frustrating as, say, M. Night Shyamalan who has so much talent that is being squandered, but still frustrating. Goyer is a writer of tremendous talent, but it only seems that the talent comes out when he is working on adapting material. When he is the source the work suffers in the end. The only thing I can guess is that when he is writing his own material he has no one there to tell him when something doesn't work, or he just wants so hard to make everything work that he loses the forest for the trees. It is not like his failures do not have good points to them, they are just not well defined. Then there is his directing, to which I can only say: "Please stick to your strengths, adapting others works and stories. You are really good at that."

theunbornpic16The Unborn is a ghost story that feels like a remake of a Japanese horror film with a little bit of The Exorcist thrown in. Like so many J-horror adaptations, it does not work. There are some fundamental differences between J-horror and American horror making translations a tricky proposition at best (with films like The Ring being the exception), but when you start aping the remake style in an original film you do nothing but add another layer of complexity that is not needed.

A long time ago I remember reading about some elements that made Japanese and American horror, something that applies to films in all genres. In Japanese films, and Asian films in general, there are often many things that just happen without any sort of explanation, the audience is expected to accept it and move forward, in American films, explanations are required to inform of what is going on. This is information confirmed by someone who actually listened to a Pokemon movie commentary where they had to add animation when bringing the film to America. The other difference applies more directly to horror films, in Japanese horror once you are in a haunted house, for example, there is no way out, opposed to American horror and the requirement of a hero/heroine. These elements all come into play in The Unborn.

theunbornpic9The story concerns Casey Beldon (Megan Fox lookalike Odette Yustman), a seemingly well-adjusted teenager (despite a mother who committed suicide and a mostly absentee father). All is fine until her dreams are invaded by a creepy little kid with bad skin. Then there is also the dog with the mask, and, well, you get the picture.

Casey gets a little freaked out and her best pal Romy (Meagan Good) does not seem to be much help. Meanwhile, the neighbor kid is acting very strangely, with an unhealthy interest in Casey, could his odd behavior be related to the ghost kid? Is there any doubt?

In short order, her investigation leads her to the grandmother she never knew she had, who is also an Auschwitz survivor, and happens to know exactly what is going on. Apparently, everything dates back to eugenics experiments in the camp focusing on eye color, a ghost became attached to the family and has been wanting to be born ever since. Casey also learns she was a twin, but her brother died in the womb.

theunbornpubaIt is a good thing we had the old woman to tell us what is going on; otherwise we'd have to settle for an increasingly creepy setting that would force us to pay attention. This is a case demonstrating the disastrous effect that exposition can have. Frankly, even after all of their talking I am not exactly sure of what was going on. Of course, the expository sequences threatened to put me to sleep.

Following the "explanation" the movie begins to pick up some speed as we have an interfaith exorcism, presided over by Gary Oldman as a Rabbi and Idris Elba as an Episcopalean Minister. Some high winds, and deaths later the whole thing is over and you could almost hear a collective sigh come from the audience as we filed towards the exit shaking our heads.

I like David Goyer, he has been involved with some excellent films like Blade, Dark City, and the recent Batman rejuvenation. I feel he has some good ideas, but when they are Goyer originals, he needs to take some extra care with them. There are some genuinely creepy moments in this film, visually I would go so far as to say there are Lovecraftian touches here in the creature design and execution. So much potential wasted.

Bottomline. I wanted to like this movie. The trailer indicated a film that would have genuine scares and a plot that offered actual menace. The final film looks fine, but the tale is not all that interesting, and borderline nonsensical. Better luck next time.

Not Recommended.

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