Writer-director David S. Goyer (The Invisible) turns his fanboy enthusiasm to The Exorcist with his latest outing, the supernatural horror thriller The Unborn. Goyer's stock rose first with the Blade films and then stratospherically after his contributions to the co-writing of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, which (sort of) explain the presence in The Unborn of Gary Oldman. But the best that can be said for Goyer's latest is that it's competent.
How competent is a matter of debate, as is the degree to which Goyer is self-aware about the film's camp value. Is it possible to write the line "Jumby wants to be born" as your horror catch phrase without recognizing it's more snicker-worthy than creepy? Either response will do, I suppose, as long as The Unborn gets a rise out of you. The recipient of the dispatches about Jumby is young Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman of Cloverfield, modeling many pairs of panties on her pert patoot), plagued of late by unsettling dreams involving fetuses and sunken-eyed little boys. Turns out Casey was a twin, her unborn sibling having been strangled in utero by her umbilical cord, and yep, he was (inexplicably) nicknamed "Jumby" by Casey's parents (James Remar and Carla Gugino). Now Jumby wants out from the netherworld, and deems Casey the best candidate for possession.
Casey's investigation reveals yet more to the story, which stretches back to include family secrets involving a Holocaust survivor in a rest home (Jane Alexander), Auschwitz and Joseph Mengele's purported special interest in twins via experiments to "unravel the mysteries of the genetic," and the ancient legend of the dybbuk, a soul denied entrance into heaven and subsequently eager to kick up trouble for the living. Aha--maybe there's more to Jumby than meets the mind's eye! It's entirely possible that Alexander's line "It has fallen on you to finish what began in Auschwitz" will, in its exploitation, set more people shifting in their seats than any of the traditional horror cues.
The Unborn sets about shuffling the same pile of horror cliches (dangerous mirrors, ghost children), but Goyer deserves a nod for quality control in their execution: the spectral special effects are top notch. Some of the choices are witty, like the creep-out use of potato bugs, also known as Jerusalem crickets. Others are just gleefully wrong: though played with a poker face, Casey's wack encounter with a nightclub-restroom glory hole reveals Goyer's in on the joke. Sadly, Goyer's sketchy script isn't big on internal logic, such as why the unborn can easily possess stronger humans but would still prefer to fight tooth and nail to inhabit the waifish Casey. The dybbuk's increasingly muscular attacks obviously spell trouble for Casey's boyfriend Mark (Cam Gigandet) and best friend Romy (Meagan Good), though our hero doesn't so much warn them they're fodder as insist on their help.
The Jewish mysticism angle brings in Oldman's Rabbi Joseph Sendak (and no points for the Where the Wild Things Are reference). He quite reasonably begs off, then for some reason makes a swift 180° turn to total commitment to Casey's cause, even before his encounter with the dog with the upside-down head. The latter is one of two elaborate recreations of The Exorcist's most infamous deleted scene, both preludes to the big multidenominational exorcism finale in the condemned asylum that once held Casey's mother, poor thing. Hence, Idris Elba (The Wire) joins the "fun" as a Catholic priest recruited for safety-in-numbers purposes. Actors of the caliber of Elba and Oldman help to make The Unborn slightly less trashy, but on the other hand, their exposure to the stank conjures the wrong kind of empathy: not for the characters, but the actors.
On Universal Blu-ray, The Unborn appears both in its Theatrical Cut and a moderately preferable Unrated Cut that's 45 seconds longer. The picture quality is spectacular, taking pristine source material and rendering it with crisp clarity, fine detail and rich color--including a rock-solid black level. The bombastic DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix accurately recreates the film's theatrical soundscape with high-fidelity punch.
Bonus features are sadly limited to six "Deleted Scenes" (6:37, HD). What, no Goyer commentary? Oh, well. Universal's customary My Scenes bookmarking feature and BD-Live capability are present and accounted for.
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