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The Unborn (2008)
Director: David S. Goyer
review by Gary McMahon
There seem to have been a slew of horror films released lately from Hollywood, most of which involve themes and images that were done so much better in Japanese cinema a few years ago. The Unborn continues this trend, and while not a remake it certainly feels all too familiar...
The rather fetching Casey (Odette Yustman) is having bad dreams about a pasty-faced young boy and a dog with its head on upside down. A message from the dream tells her that someone - or some thing - called Jumby wants to be born. Basically, a dybbuk (a sort of Jewish spiritual vampire) is stalking her from the other side, and according to Casey's maternal grandmother it can only be born by latching onto the soul of an unborn twin. Gary Oldman appears as a Jewish priest, but doesn't seem to know what to do with the (underwritten) role.
Sam Raimi's new film Drag Me To Hell covers slightly similar material - an ancient demon, a terrible curse, the merging of dream and nightmare - in a much more stylish, funny, and scary manner, which leaves The Unborn somewhat out in the cold. While one can salute writer-director's David S. Goyer's desire to bring something new to the genre in using a character from Jewish folklore as the basis for his horrors, the imagery he uses isn't fresh enough to maintain the viewer's interest. There are a few good scenes where - notably, the excellent opening dream sequence and the creepy moments where Casey is chased through a dark old-folks' home by an old man bent into the shape of a spider - but the head-on-upside-down gag is overused to the point that it becomes almost redundant.
I certainly didn't dislike the film, but I expected it to be more substantial, more frightening, and less hysterical in tone (particularly the rushed exorcism and messy ending). It's great that actors of Gary Oldman's calibre can be lured to star in genre material, but that material needs to be top notch in order to harness their talents. Unfortunately, The Unborn is below par; despite an interesting central premise, it fails to deliver any genuine thrills or chills and ultimately falls flat. I really wanted to like this one, too.
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