Jewish mysticism, dead twins, and malevolent dybbuks (restless spirits that search for human hosts to possess) are at the center of David S. Goyer’s cerebral new horror flick, The Unborn.
The plot centers on a young woman named Casey (played by Cloverfield’s painfully thin Odette Yustman) who is plagued by disturbing supernatural encounters. At the center of these demon-esque goings-on are Nazi genetic experiments committed in Auschwitz on sets of twins. The tainted bloodline leads to Casey’s late mother (played in flashbacks by Carla Gugino whose talent is essentially wasted here) and eventually a long-lost grandmother (played by the venerable Jane Alexander, here admirably doing her best not to channel Zsa Zsa Gabor).
Alexander’s character fleshes out the back story from the nursing home, while Casey endures increasingly frightening encounters with a creepy, pasty-faced little boy for whom she babysits and in whose body the dybbuk now resides. Dexter’s James Remar appears long enough as Casey’s father to reveal that she was one of a set of twins – the male child dying in utero. And while it does all get painfully convoluted at times, patient viewers may enjoy the more highbrow plot. Certainly a yard or two above remake ilk like last year’s Prom Night.
Goyer piles on the scares a bit over-zealously at times, giving the viewer an impression of randomness. He’s thrown in everything and the kitchen sink here, with creepy crawlies, mirror gags, Exorcist-like head twisting, and demonic children all crowding the tableau and competing for our adrenaline. It comes across at times like the cinematic equivalent of Red Bull.
That said, this movie is far removed from the dreck of recent J-horror remakes and slasher retreads and surprisingly effective considering its PG-13 pedigree. Cinematography by James Hawkinson and score by Ramin Djawadi help create an appropriately sinister, dreamlike mood throughout. Acting is solid, if unremarkable, with decent lead work by Yustman (gratuitous underwear shots notwithstanding) who gets respectable support from Gary Oldman as a rabbi the heroine enlists to perform a Hebrew exorcism, C.S. Lee (a Dexter reunion of sorts with Remar) as a kindly ophthalmologist, and Meagan Good (Venom, Saw V) doing yeoman’s work as the requisite BFF. Alexander is a distinguished actress who elevates her role even when the Holocaust horror borders on hokey, and her mere presence certainly lends some semblance of stature to the film.
Doubtful the film will make many “best of” lists by year’s end, yet there are worse ways to spend an hour or two. Good for a few winter chills.