“The Unborn is a fairly standard horror movie that doesn’t do a good job of connecting us to it’s characters, or making us feel like we should care. The plot is common place possession/exorcism with a pretty predictable type of ending…Where it succeeds is in the originality of having a possession story not based in Christian mythology, a semi-diverse core cast that isn’t just slaughter fodder, and the monster mash up from other movies. The combination of these things makes The Unborn worth watching even if it isn’t that great a movie overall. The recurring…creepstyx Pit bull wearing a mask will elicit some bad day dreams at the very least. Though I’m sure the Silent Hill and The Grudge type creatures will catch everyone else’s attention.” – 2.5/5 (genre)
The Unborn echoes, in many ways, the path that At the Devil’s Door took. That is it borrowed many elements from many different possession/exorcism movies, and horror movies and mashed them all together to try and come up with something new. In some ways it was successful, despite being only a modest film it does many unoriginal things in a rather unique way. Finally, I found a horror movie that had “The …” insert whatever as the title that wasn’t absolutely horrible.
This is the story of Casey Beldon (Odette Annable), I assume a college age student (I’m making this guess because it is never clarified and at first I thought they were high schoolers since she has a babysitting gig and lives with her dad; whew that was a long aside), who begins seeing things from the outset of the movie. As she is jogging along a path she jogs often she comes across a child’s glove laying on the ground. Normally I’d never even think twice about picking up discarded clothing, but what the heck let’s run with it. After she picks it up somebody obviously ran into the camera and knocked it out of focus with the background, giving the effect of her being on a green screen, but as she turns around they got it back together and a boy is standing there. An obviously dead boy, blue skin and eyes, blood on him, typical things you’d expect to see on a dead person I suppose. Then there is a dog in a mask. I found this to be a little bit creepstyx, I’m not sure why but a pit bull in a mask is just damn eerie. It runs off into the woods and she follows it, again sure why not, and comes across a grave that has an unborn infant in it.
We find out this is just a dream, as the movie jumps to Casey babysitting for the neighbors across the street from her, talking on “Skype” with her friend Romy (Meagan Good). She then hears the boy on the baby monitor whispering about looking into the mirror, and goes upstairs to find the boy she’s babysitting making his infant sibling look into a mirror. He then smashes the mirror against her head and says “Jumby wants to be born now”. Not exactly horrifying stuff, just jerk-face kid stuff.
Casey is informed that an infant under the age of one isn’t supposed to see it’s own reflection or it will die. This is said to be a superstition, but this isn’t one I’ve ever heard of. Maybe because I’m not a parent myself, but if anyone who is could let me know if that is indeed a known superstition I’d like to know how common it actually is. At any rate, from this point on it becomes an obvious there is a spirit that wants back into our world and it wants to get back in through Casey. The spirit that wants back is called a dybbuk, a wandering spirit that inhabits a humans body in Jewish folklore. A clear cut possession/exorcism story that is very straight forward and blunt about where it’s going, so telling you these things spoils nothing. It’s the trip that was interesting.
The Good: First I’d like to say that The Unborn deserves some credit for having a diversity cast that isn’t just slaughter fodder. Sure they die, come one you knew that was coming but I won’t say who because it isn’t everyone, but their deaths are actually meaningful to the story and play an important element. They aren’t just there to enhance the scare factor by being slaughtered by the evil thing in a horrible way (slaughter fodder). We all know that the horror genre is White dominated, so this is a very nice touch that I felt deserved some attention.
Second it’s a possession/exorcism story that isn’t based in Christian mythology. Say What!?! That’s right, a story based on another religion, in this case Hebrew lore. Admittedly these two are inexorable tied together but it was nice to finally see a possession story that wasn’t about Christian demons. In fact at one point Casey says she doesn’t want a Christian exorcism, and the movie makes the point of saying that there aren’t demons allergic to Christian beliefs, and others to Hebrew, and others to Muslim but that these things likely predate Mankind and are of no denomination or religion. This too was impressive to me, I liked the uniqueness that it brought to the story which was so close to being good I could almost taste it, but just not quite.
I mentioned early on that it took a lot of things from a lot of different movies and mashed them up together. Normally this would be an awful thing for a movie to do as it almost never works and comes off feeling like it is exactly what it is, a rip off of someone else’s ideas. But it works rather nicely in The Unborn and actually creates a foothold to help the viewer gain some traction in interest. You will see creatures that look like they came straight out of Silent Hill, The Grudge, and several others which elude me at the moment but I’ll add in once I remember them. From where the movie began it actually surprised me when these things started popping up and caught my attention at just about the time that it was beginning to wane.
But The Unborn doesn’t stop with the things we’ve seen in other movies and also mashes sub-genre’s together. At first it feels like a slow burn, eerie movie (dog in a mask!) but then switches to jump scares, typical horror fare. Then it moves into the Silent Hill and Japanese styles of horror, with very incredible looking monsters that will likely conjure up a few nightmares for some, or the truly bizarre (dog with an upside down head!). We get a few moments of slasher films, kind of like Friday the 13th or Halloween in the feeling of it, but this doesn’t last long. And finally it makes its transition to exorcism and all the good fun that comes with casting out an evil spirit hell bent (sorry) on making it into this world.
The acting and story aren’t horrible, so they will fall under “The Good” category, but let’s be clear this was no incredible performance. It was, at best, mediocre from all the cast. Not to say that the actors weren’t good actors (some we know for certain are good actors and do a good job here), in fact I think they did quite well with the script given them, but even they couldn’t drag the non-religious based dialogue out of the muck it was stuck in. Just filler talk to progress us to the next stage of the film, which was unfortunate as it was a wasted opportunity to really explore some aspects of a different mythology and lore through a modern perspective, but that could just be me. With that we transition to:
The Bad: Aside from the aforementioned dialogue there are two things that are wrong with this movie that essentially break it. The initial half hour to forty minutes of the movie is rife with cutaways to black screens which transition us through an unknown amount of time. Sometimes it was a few hours, sometimes a day or so and maybe even weeks at some points I’m really not sure. At any rate it managed to create a huge dissonance between the movie and the audience, causing me to lose interest almost immediately with the characters and not form any bonds with them. This is a huge hurtle for any movie to overcome once it’s happened, and The Unborn just wasn’t quite up to the task of recovering from it. While the movie abandons this approach after the forty minute mark and begins doing it’s monster mash up, which is quite fun and would have been really great had the beginning been great, it just can’t quite find the footing it needs to make me care that Casey is being taken over by a spirit that has plagued her family for some time. Though the changing color of her iris’ is fun.
The other is really probably just an annoyance of mine but I found it distracting enough to be worth mentioning. There are so many throw away characters in this movie that I almost got lost thinking I would need to keep track of who they were and what their importance was. Even Casey’s father is just a throw away character, in there because he has to be to explain one aspect of the plot, just one, and then he’s gone with no wrap up or tying off of his story. While the core cast is rather solid (Casey, Romy, Sofi (Jane Alexander), and Rabbi Sendak (Gary Oldman) there were just so many characters introduced with a seemingly higher level of importance than they ever deserved and then just tossed to the wind. Why have them? Most didn’t even serve a purpose except maybe, oh look Casey has friends, that’s awesomesauce. I really found this to be just as distracting as the discordant time jumps.
The End: The ending was pretty expected, nothing of any significant note story wise. It was a good tie off of the plot line, but it wasn’t original in any way and could have been easily predicted (and was pretty early on) by most. What it did offer was who survived the whole ordeal, it surprised me a bit there as there are some rules to horror movies about who survives (no I won’t start quoting Scream), and The Unborn didn’t seem to care much about those rules, making it’s own decision about who the survivors are. Good on you movie.
As a side note, watch the statues, that’s all I’ll say. Maybe my own made up Easter egg, but still.
The Wrap Up: The Unborn is a fairly standard horror movie that doesn’t do a good job of connecting us to it’s characters, or making us feel like we should care. It doesn’t elicit much in the way of scary either (jump, panic, or disturbing) with some notable exceptions. The plot is common place possession/exorcism with a pretty predictable type of ending, and just leaves you feeling like there is something you missed that would have made it better. Where it succeeds is in the originality of having a possession story not based in Christian mythology, a semi-diverse core cast that isn’t just slaughter fodder, and the monster mash up from other movies. The combination of these things makes The Unborn worth watching even if it isn’t that great a movie overall. The recurring dog alone was enough to make me continue watching, and I’m certain that creepstyx Pit bull wearing a mask will elicit some bad day dreams at the very least. Though I’m sure the Silent Hill and The Grudge type creatures will catch everyone else’s attention.
Overall: 2.5/5 (genre)