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The Unborn (2009)

Peter Iovino/Rogue Pictures

Give David S. Goyer some credit: At least the writer-director of “The Unborn” shows some awareness of horror’s cultural legacy beyond “Saw” and “Hostel.” He’s made a film about a dybbuk, which is (as described by Wikipedia) “a malicious possessing spirit, believed to be the dislocated soul of a dead person,” that serves as a primary figure in Eastern European Jewish folklore.

Unfortunately, the movie emergent from that initial conceit owes less to the tradition it evokes then the bland, sanitized aesthetic so familiar to PG-13 Hollywood horror. It’s full of cheap thrills that mostly consist of people popping up out of nowhere and dialogue comprised largely of theological gobbledygook. Sadly, none of it even qualifies as so bad it’s hilarious, save for the image of Gary Oldman as a rabbi, loudly incanting an exorcism in Hebrew.

Strange things have been happening to Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman). She goes jogging through the snow near her home and encounters a buried fetus. A babysitting charge stares at her dementedly, and tells her that “he wants to be born.” Then, his small, ghostly white frame keeps invading her personal space. Eventually, she decides she’s been victimized by a dybbuk, which lets Mr. Goyer bring in Rabbi Oldman and, in an unintended drive towards cinematic topicality, some Holocaust flashbacks.

The film is most hampered by Mr. Goyer’s failure to bring any sort of psychological dimension to the narrative. Nothing about Casey makes her seem particularly susceptible to possession, and she never seems anything more than slightly perturbed by her ordeal. Ms. Yustman, a pretty face without much in the way of discernible talent, consistently vacillates between two emotions: profound disinterest and wide-eyed terror. She’s the right actor for a picture that, despite initial appearances, serves as a perfectly blasé kick-off to the movie dead-zone month of January.


Opens on Jan. 9 in the United States and on Feb. 27 in Britain.

Written and directed by David S. Goyer; director of photography, James Hawkinson; edited by Jeff Betancourt; music by Ramin Djawadi; production designer, Craig Jackson; produced by Michael Bay, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller; released by Rogue Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. This film is tared PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Odette Yustman (Casey Beldon), Gary Oldman (Rabbi Sendak), Meagan Good (Romy) and Jane Alexander (Sofi Kozma).


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