The Unborn (2009)

The kids aren’t alright…

Horror is an extraordinarily difficult genre to get right. In the desperate search to scare the bejeebus out of a wide and varied audience, and although they may have the very best intentions, film-makers all too easily descend into cliché. It’s far simpler to employ tried and tested formulas for fright than to think up something unique. At worst, these by the numbers shockers are utter trash; at best they are fairly entertaining but instantly forgettable. The Unborn is one of the latter.

Beautiful young Casey (Cloverfield’s Yustman) lives a fairly privileged life. When she’s not hanging out with her gorgeous boyfriend (Gigandet) and spunky best mate (Good), she lives in a huge house with her successful father (Remar, in a blink and you’ll miss it role). The only blight on Casey’s perfect horizon is the fact that, many years previously, her mother (the excellent Gugino, relegated to flashback duties) hung herself after being institutionalised for mental illness. When Casey begins to suffer strange visions, she is drawn to find out more about her murky past – and the discovery that she had a twin brother who died in the womb leads to a terrifying battle against a destructive supernatural force.

Spooky child spirit… Check. Bizarre, inhuman visions… Check. A dark family history… Check. Writer/director David S Goyer’s script is like a dot to dot of modern horror, with echoes of everything from The Ring to The Grudge and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Just not nearly as good. True, there are some successful moments – although there is a reliance on CGI for the scares, it is mostly effective and, at times, downright disturbing.

But the film’s fundamental flaw is that these solid spooky moments hang on a narrative that’s not nearly strong enough to bear their weight. At various points the story touches on mysticism, religion, the supernatural and Nazi experimentation, never seeming sure which explanation holds the most water. None of them, it transpires, as the film often descends into silliness – an underused Gary Oldman as a rabbi performing a pantomime exorcism in an abandoned mental hospital, for example, or The Wire star Idris Elba suddenly becoming a rabid, possessed psychopath. Some of the narrative falls victim to excessive exposition, with characters frequently uttering the phrase ‘Have you ever heard of….’ in order to circumnavigate massive leaps of logic.

If you’re a fan of creepy kids, spooky effects and upside-down-headed dogs, The Unborn will be a fun, albeit flimsy, Friday night flick. If you’re on the hunt for a strong, memorable addition to a genre overpopulated with identikit carbon copies, then you’ll most likely be disappointed.

3 stars

Odette Yustman, Gary Oldman, James Remar, Cam Gigandet, Meagan Good, Carla Gugino
Director & Screenplay David S Goyer
Certificate 15
Distributor Universal Pictures
Running Time 1hr 27mins
Country USA
Opening Date February 27