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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Unborn (The)

With a title like The Unborn, I was half-expecting to see one of those scratchy tenth-grade movies that teachers used to show after segregating the boys from the girls, putting each in different rooms with same-sex chaperones on board to keep an eye on the students while they watched the important information they were about to receive. You know the ones I’m referring to, they usually began with a deep Don Pardo-like voice that intones “The miracle of birth…” as the camera pans to a nest of hatching baby robins with Mama Robin perched attentively at the edge of her brood, waiting patiently for that perfect maternal moment when she can vomit up her pre-digested earthworm into their helpless, hungry little mouths. From there, the “mystery” of The Unborn is unspooled in some awkward way that eventually leads to the introduction of an egg and sperm and ~ voila! ~ in a tastefully illustrated cutaway form, the gestation of a baby is then presented to mortified sophomore health class students everywhere, ensuring that when the two genders are reunited just in time for lunch everyone in the cafeteria can be as embarrassed as hell and dine in shamed silence.

The day I went to see
The Unborn I pulled into the lot at the Essex Cinemas and there was a bright yellow school bus parked near the entrance. Oh, please let it be true, I thought. It would be just too delicious. I broke out in a shameless grin. I really am going straight to hell, but I don’t care. It would be too much to hope for if the bus-full of kids that occupied that vehicle were here to see The Unborn in some ridiculous misunderstanding of the faculty’s that this is the same old Birds & Bees primer. What a great way to learn about sex.

Well, unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. The children were here to see Bedtime Stories, which, ironically, sounds like it could also be a bit of a sex education film were it not starring Adam Sandler and a guinea pig (even I’m not going there!). Still,
The Unborn has plenty going for it, with or without an audience of appalled adolescents on hand.

Actually this version of
The Unborn is a peculiar type of sex ed movie in its own roundabout way. It’s supposed to be a teen horror flick, but then I’m apt to think any movie that bears the names Odette Yustman and Cam Gigandet as its “above-the-title” stars is bound to be scary. In The Unborn, Ms. Yustman (Cloverfield) plays Casey Beldon, a young woman who starts seeing this creepy little boy (debuting Ethan Cutkosky) wherever she goes. At first it is from a distance, but when he pops out of her medicine cabinet at home, as they are always apt to do in scary movies, she knows she has to get help. Her dimbulb boyfriend Mark (Cam Gigandet; Twilight) seems to think sex is the answer to everything, so there is plenty of that, but she needs more, so she reluctantly turns to her father for answers. Now you and I both know parents are very seldom present in these hormonal fright nights, so there has to be something in the past the old guy can tell her or else he wouldn’t be around. Sure enough, Dad (James Remar; Pineapple Express) gives her a clue when he reveals that Casey had been a twin, but that her brother had been a fetal failure, never making it to fruition because her umbilical cord strangled him in their mother’s womb. Hmmm. So connect the dots and the obvious correlation has to that the creepy kid is her spooky sibling wanting revenge on her for killing him off and then living when he didn’t get to.

It should be so simple.

Instead we have to go back three generations to learn the whole story, which includes meeting a
grandmother Casey never knew existed, played by four time
Oscar nominee Jane Alexander (Gigantic), proving you are never too old or too classy to slum when you need a paycheck. She hangs about a dusty old nursing home and spouts out pages worth of exposition about ~ get this ~ Nazi experiments that were done on twins that has a link to the here and now. Oy!

An even bigger Oy! goes to the wonderful Carla Gugino (Righteous Kill), who “plays” Casey’s dead mother. Other than an occasional flashback smile, her only raison d’être here is to collect a paycheck and sit quietly in a chair as a woman who has committed suicide. Honest to God, I’m surprised Samuel L. Jackson didn’t fight her to the death for this part. It reeks of the kind of cheap laziness he is so well-known for. Actually, they could have gotten a coma patient or a mannequin for the part for a whole lot less I’m sure.

The biggest Oy! of all has to go to Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight), who shows up in the key role of Rabbi Sendak because if you are going to get rid of a Jewish dibbuk (demon), naturally you’re going to need a Rabbi for the exorcism. I was kvelling. Who knew? You see, it turns out that he isn’t just Casey’s dead brother’s fetus out to get her, but a thousands-of-years-old spirit that inhabits dead bodies as a way to get back into this world. This particular dibbuk has a chip on his ethereal shoulder against Casey’s uterus because he never got to be born in her mother’s body and before that her granny offed him back in Auschwitz. Geez, I’ve been known to hold a grudge for decades, but even I would give up on carrying it from generation to generation.
Anyway, as I said, I kvelled for a few minutes. That was until the Rabbi took his “Book of Mirrors,” a
supposed ancient Hebrew text (actually an amalgam of Kabbalah books), and began reading the pages, turning them right-to-left. Okay, so it is no big thing, but in an ancient book written in Hebrew one would read it from left-to-right and turn the pages that same way. Not that I’m kvetching, but I am.

So all this exorcism bit is because baby brother/dibbuk wants to use big sister Casey’s uterus to find a new sublet, which will make it kind of crowded since Mark seems to be taking up residence in the hallway most every night, but that is between them.

I can understand how director/writer David S. Goyer attracted some reasonably well-known names in his supporting cast as he did script The Dark Knight. The question is how did the writer of The
Dark Knight follow that up with this low-rent cheese ball of a film? I mean, I liked The Unborn for what it is, but I can set the bar awfully low. There’s nothing original or particularly frightening about it, and the ending is a complete paint-by-numbers yawn. If I’d had my druthers (and what are they anyway just in case I do have them somewhere?), I could have given The Unborn a heck of better ending than Goyer did, one guaranteed to have the audience leaving rattled instead of shrugging with an “I told you so” attitude. It’s obvious the studio wanted to leave the ending open so there could be a sequel, but who wants to see The Unborn 2 if the first one wasn’t all that fierce?

I will give
The Unborn kudos for one thing though. It does seem to have jumped on the seemingly sudden resurgence of Nazis in movies, so it makes the film seem trés hip. With Valkyrie, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Miracle at St. Anna, The Reader, and Defiance all out within the last six months or currently showing it seems like Nazis have become the new “it” flavor of the moment. Dare I say this leaves me positively shvaygndik, and that never happens?

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