Evil is such a perv
Happy Hanukkah everyone! Even if you don't observe the Festival Of Lights, 'tis the season for joy, happiness and all that other good stuff. Light the candles, spin the dreidel and enjoy some tasty latkes. The thing about the holiday season and horror is that there are a ton of Christmas movies and zero about Hanukkah. Honestly, how many times can you make a movie about a murderous Santa Claus? Don't worry, I'll be reviewing some of those as we get closer to Christmas. While there are no Hanukkah horror movies, there are a few that focus on Judaism and Jewish mysticism. There's The Keep, The Golem, The Possessed, and today's movie, The Unborn. L'chaim!
The Unborn is a 2009 supernatural horror movie starring Odette Yustman (Cloverfield, October Road) as Casey Beldon. Casey has a bizarre dream in which a deceased-looking little boy with blue eyes is following her. The boy then turns into a dog which leads her into the woods where she discovers a fetus buried in the ground. The dream disturbs her, but she tries to forget about it. That night while babysitting her neighbor's kids, Casey finds the young son Matty holding a mirror up to the baby. He then hits Casey with the mirror before telling her “Jumby wants to be born now”. She is shocked by the strange incident and she has trouble trying to move on from what Matty said. She begins to have strange and very real hallucinations of the boy from her dream coming to get her. One day at school, Casey's friend Romee (Meagan Good, Stomp The Yard, D.E.B.S.) notices that one of Casey's eyes is changing color. She visits a doctor who says her condition is common among twins despite Casey being an only child. When she confronts her father, he reveals that she did indeed have a twin brother who died in the womb and that her mother had nicknamed him Jumby. While going through her mother's thing (her mother committed suicide some years ago), she discovers an article about a Holocaust survivor named Sofi Kozma (Jane Alexander, The Great White Hope, Testament) who has experience with the supernatural. After initially rebuffing Casey, Sofi reveals that she is Casey's grandmother. When she was a little girl, Sofi and her twin brother were experimented on at Auschwitz during World War II. The Nazis were trying to turn brown eyes blue when Sofi's brother was killed, only to arise two days later. Sofi believed her brother was now possessed by a dybbuk (a malevolent spirit) looking to cross over into the world of the living. She killed her brother, but the dybbuk continued to haunt her, trying to come into our world through her daughter, Casey's mother. Casey reaches out to Rabbi Sendak (Gary Oldman, Air Force One, Batman Begins) to perform an exorcism and rid the world of the dybbuk. At the same time, the dybbuk begins to kill those around Casey including Sofi and Romee. Will Casey and Rabbi Sendak be able to perform the exorcism before it's too late?
Dybbuk needs braces and a good cleanser
Exorcism movies tend to blend together because of their strong Christian/Catholic themes and overtones. There are crucifixes, holy water, “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost” and usually a priest suffering from some sort of crisis of faith. You've seen one exorcism movies, you've seen them all, right? The Unborn has none of that, though, instead focusing on Jewish mysticism, Hebrew prayers, and symbols such as the Hand Of Miriam. Just by being different, The Unborn manages to be at least semi-interesting for most of the time. Of course, once you get beyond the Judaism angle, it's pretty obvious that The Unborn is still your typical exorcism movie. The movie does try to be different by throwing in a little bit of history with Sofi and the Nazi experiments in Auschwitz, but it actually makes the story messier. Not enough time is given to the experiments as they're quickly glossed over. The movie has an almost too-fast pace, rushing from scene to scene where a little more introspection and background would have created more likable characters and a better story. Writer/director David Goyer (Blade, Man Of Steel) has some good ideas and a fairly decent grasp on what he is writing about, the execution is off. The revelation of a twin brother came within the first 20 minutes when it should have been dragged out much further. And what's the deal with the nickname “Jumby”? At first, I thought they were talking about Jambi from Pee Wee's Playhouse. “Mecca Lecca High, Mecca Hiney Ho” indeed.
The Unborn relies mostly of jump-at-you moments and quick sound swells for scares. It's good for a few jolts, but since the movie is PG-13, don't expect anything particularly shocking or horrifying. The most effective scares are when people (and one animal) have twisted body parts and move in an inhuman way. Like the spider walk and the head turning in The Exorcist, it's these unnatural movements that stick with you the most. There are some decent special effects and the movie has a slick look to it, thanks in part to being produced by Michael Bay and his Platinum Dunes production company. There's some action throughout, but nothing major. The acting in the movie is passable with no one putting in a particularly great performance. Jane Alexander and Gary Oldman are both fine, but aren't in the movie for very long. Odette Yustman is OK and I have no real complaints, although it would have been nice if the main role went to a Jewish actress, just from a story standpoint.
"Shabbat Shalom, you evil dybbuk bastard!"
It was refreshing to see a supernatural exorcism movie focusing on Judaism instead of Catholicism. It breaks from the usual cliches and creates something different for the audience to focus on. Despite the different background, though, The Unborn is just your typical exorcism movie. There are some cheap scares and some decent special effects, but the PG-13 rating keeps the movie from being truly scary. The movie has some believability issues and the rushed background information makes the story messier than it has to be. The acting is fine and the story has some good ideas, but it's just not enough to pull everything together. The subject matter for The Unborn is suited for a slightly more mature crowd, but the movie itself is better off at a teenage slumber party than with hardcore horror fans.