The Unborn Review

The Film


College student Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman) has been having nightmares – nightmares involving spooky children whispering ominous things. You know, the usual. The horrors of her dreams cross into the real world, however, when a child she is babysitting declares that “Jumby wants to be born now,” and gives her an old-fashioned crack on the noggin for good measure. Turns out that this has something to do with Casey’s unborn twin brother, killed in the womb when her umbilical cord became wrapped around his neck. Before you can say “What the heck is Gary Oldman doing in this film?” Casey’s friends and acquaintances are dropping dead left, right and centre as her brother’s spirit tries to manifest itself, and she ends up turning to a sceptical rabbi (the aforementioned Oldman) for help, so she can fight nonsense with further nonsense.


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I’ll say one thing for The Unborn: after encountering countless tales of demonic possession that take their cues entirely from Catholic dogma, I was surprised to come across a film that eschews the traditional iconography of this horror sub-genre in favour of Jewish mythology. Unfortunately, that’s the only original element in what is otherwise a bland and tedious retread through every single cliché associated with The Exorcist and its myriad spawn. The film was produced by Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes, and is the horror-lite factory’s first non-remake production. It’s not entirely clear why they bothered, though, as it ends up cribbing plot details and set-pieces ad nauseam from countless better movies. In effect, it’s a remake in all but name. It’s also so utterly devoid of any bite of its own that it ends up invoking the Holocaust (the Holocaust, people) in an attempt to give its subject matter more thematic weight.

If writer/director David S. Goyer was attempting to win the award for most tasteless plot device of the year, he’s definitely in with a good chance. By referencing Josef Mengele’s experiments on children at Auschwitz, the film stops being merely silly and derivative and becomes downright unpalatable. Suddenly, it’s not just another oogie-boogie horror movie – it’s serious, goddammit. It’s the oldest ploy in the book: take a B-movie storyline and somehow connect it to a real life atrocity, thereby instantly giving it free credibility. The makers of the recent remake of The Omen attempted to do something similar with 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, among others, to equally futile and distasteful effect. It’s not that the filmmakers are attempting to say anything serious about the events to which they are referring: they’re just using them to prop up a limp and forgettable storyline.


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And The Unborn is as limp and forgettable as they come. After a handful of half-decent jump scares in its opening act, the film plods along from exposition scene to exposition scene, punctuating screeds of dull, functional dialogue with slightly less dull set-pieces, most of which involve wide-eyed, pale-faced little boys staring at the camera and whispering ominous statements, as if the director is under the misconception that such things are automatically scary. Saddled with the thankless task of simultaneously wading through this bunkum and frequently showing off her undies is Odette Yustman, whose acting credentials are – alas – about on par with Goyer’s ability to direct. Not that even a more gifted actress could have made much of the role, the casting call for which probably read “WANTED: Girl to stand around in pants and look perplexed.” The promotional people were clearly aware that her hindquarters were the only remotely marketable aspect of this project when they put together the poster. As for poor old Gary Oldman... wow. I don’t often say that an actor is too good for a film, but it’s definitely true in this case.

The Unborn is one of those regrettable films that really have no reason to exist. Every single element is cribbed from a far better film, be it the spider-walk from The Exorcist, the creepy little boy from The Omen, or... you get the picture, I’m sure. It plods doggedly through its paltry 89-minute running time, which seems like an eternity. Sometimes, with cheap, derivative horror movies such as this, there is a degree of fun to be had in cataloguing all the ripped-off moments, cheesy lines and ineffective attempts to be scary, but no such pleasures are to be found here. The strongest indictment against The Unborn is that it’s not even so bad it’s good. It’s just... bad.

The Disc



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Because there seems to be an unwritten law stating that all bad Hollywood movies must receive the best treatment with regard to AV quality, it comes as little surprise that Universal’s 1080p, VC-1 encoded 2.39:1 image looks terrific. The film was shot in anamorphic Panavision, and has that wonderful “smooth but detailed” look so often associated with this cinematographic process. The blacks look slightly elevated, particularly towards the beginning of the film, but there’s really nothing else to criticise in this excellent transfer, which showcases a solid, film-like texture, with no evidence of digital tampering and nothing in the way of compression artefacts.

For audio, we get a decent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, which ticks all the right boxes but is surprisingly front-focused in nature. The rears are seldom heard, with seems like a bit of a missed opportunity, given the inherent possibilities multi-channel mixing affords for cranking up the fear factor. Only the music benefits in any meaningful way from the 5.1 mix, although the bass is pleasingly powerful throughout. The film also includes Spanish, French Canadian, French and German dubs in DTS 5.1, along with subtitles in the same languages.

The BD release includes both the theatrical PG-13 version and an unrated cut, the latter a mere minute longer than its predecessor. Described in the press release as too terrifying for theatres, the only difference I actually noticed was a slightly extended bonking session between Casey and her boy-toy, which might be scary for some but failed to make my spine tingle. I don’t doubt that there are additional changes between the two versions, but I’ll leave it to someone with more stamina than myself to catalogue them. For now, it should simply suffice to say that they fail to turn the film into something worth watching.

The Extras



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The only extras included are seven minutes’ worth of bland and unmemorable deleted scenes, although given the nature of the rest of the film I doubt anyone will be surprised as to their quality. Presented in full HD, they’re at least decent from a visual standpoint. They are also subtitled in the same languages as the film itself.

Overall



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Despite half-heartedly attempting to be something more than just another generic possession movie by substituting the usual Catholic mumbo-jumbo with mumbo-jumbo of a different denomination, The Unborn is as unimaginative and forgettable as they come. The AV presentation is top-notch, but unfortunately a nice transfer and a pleasing sound mix do not a good film make. Unless you’ve made it your mission to collect every last movie about demonic possession in high definition, you’d be as well to simply pick up the likes of The Omen, Poltergeist or The Orphanage, all of which are available in very serviceable Blu-ray editions.

Film
3 out of 10
Video
9 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
2 out of 10
Overall

4

out of 10

Last updated: 24/05/2018 05:32:22

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