At the Quality 16 and Showcase
2 out of 5 Stars
David Goyer is a fantastic screenwriter when it comes to dark action, spectacle and the occult. An Ann Arbor native, Goyer is an avid sci-fi and comic geek who brandishes tattoos and is noted for his brooding writing. He helped write the last two “Batman” films, made the “Blade” movies superior schlock and has written enough junk food (“Death Warrant,” “Dark City”) to last Spike a lifetime.
But as a director, Goyer kinda … sucks.
The weak direction is only thing holding back “The Unborn,” a consistently interesting but ultimately medicore new thriller written and directed by Goyer. A brilliant idea-making kind of man, Goyer keeps enough utterly crazy shit on the screen at all times to keep audiences amused, but he never quite leads the film in the direction he should. “The Unborn” is a perfect example that creative stories can be poorly told.
“The Unborn” is the story of Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman, “Cloverfield”), an undergrad student living in and around Chicago. She’s starting to see things: creepy kids, blinking fetuses and insects everywhere. And, because this is a supernatural thriller and obviously nothing like real life, the film never shows Casey going to class, discussing her major, tuition or grades.
Realistic or not, Casey has just found out that she had a twin who died during childbirth. Perhaps that’s why she’s haunted by a spooky little boy? Could it be the reason she’s seeing dogs with masks on their faces?
In search of answers, Casey finds her estranged grandmother Sofi (Jane Alexander, “The Ring”), a Holocaust survivor and requisite wise old religious lady. Sofi explains that Casey is being haunted by a dybbuk, a possessing demon of Kabbalah and Jewish European folklore that can invade our world via mirrors and scantily clad women. How PG-13.
The rest of “The Unborn” is a series of creepy moments and crazy images that should leave the audience wondering how Gary Oldman (“Batman Begins”) wound up in this movie as an exorcising rabbi.
Still, “The Unborn” has some fascinating imagery and ideas. A mix of Jewish mysticism, underage melodrama and imagery lifted from “Don’t Look Now,” the film occasionally works. It’s filled with radically random moments. When a feeble old man suddenly bends and morphs into an upside-down tarantula, Goyer strikes trippy gold. When a four-year-old child appears with a blue raincoat, butcher knife and demon face, it’s legitimately scary. And when Gary Oldman sees a bull terrier with an upside down head growling in a temple, it’s actually memorable.
But it’s not enough. While “The Unborn” has great images and fresh ideas, nothing ever quite meshes. Goyer is still green at directing, and he throws his scenes together with little cohesion or flair.
Horror films can easily sling cheap thrills at audiences, usually using tense “Psycho”-esque strings in the soundtrack and crash edits. Goyer lazily uses these tools, in addition to innocuous slow motion and baroque angles. As a result, one can’t help but imagine this material in the hands of a skilled horror director. There’s a reason “The Dark Knight” was so good: Goyer let someone else direct his material. What if Guillermo Del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) or Eli Roth (“Hostel”) got a crack at this? Think of all the tension and thrills people could get from a Goyer collaboration with one of those guys.
Instead, “The Unborn” is just a slightly average January thriller. Keep writing, Goyer.