January is not such a good time for movies. The holiday season is over people are getting back to work and school and their normal lives, and the movie studios seem to take this opportunity to unload all their half-witted movies that probably no one is going to be interested in anyway. It seems that way every time I see a movie like The Unborn, anyway. This thing is so thin and weak it's like a cinematic version of weak tea, and weak tea is not something you want your audience to be thinking about while they're suffering through your scary movie.
Brought to us by the director of Blade: Trinity (and pretty much nothing else), The Unborn is the story of a girl who had a twin that died in utero because her umbilical cord had wrapped around his neck in the womb and strangled him, and she didn't become aware of it until decades later when his evil spirit decided that he was ready to be born now.
Sadly, the movie relies almost entirely on endless shots of creepy kids with deadpan expressions and, occasionally, colored contact lenses. But don't go thinking the cliches stop there, the movie is so jam-packed with cheap horror techniques that it almost feels like an educational experience in everything to avoid doing in making a scary movie.
The extreme close-up of the mutated babyface and the sudden screeching noise when the eyes flip open used to be a pretty scary effect. I can't remember when that was, it's been a number of decades now, but there was a time in the distant past when that shot had a cool effect. Now it's been so overdone and copied that it's no loner anything more than a big red flag that the movie you're watching is wasting your time!
In the movie's defense, it has a clear ability to create a tense atmosphere. Much of it is beautifully photographed, and the combination of the slow tracking shots and the moody music give a feeling of unease which, in a better movie, could easily pave the way for a genuinely freaky horror show. But unfortunately, every bit of the rest of the movie is as wispy and uninteresting as a pair of old underwear.
Odette Yustman stars as the afflicted Casey Beldon, faced with a terrible situation in which she is slowly losing her soul to an invading demon, back for revenge for that one pesky sibling rivalry that they had before they were born. Poor Casey finds out at the most vulnerable time that she inadvertently killed her own brother, which has to have some kind of devastating effect on a person, even one who is not in such an, ah, emotional state as Casey is in.
Oh, and speaking of emotional states, there is a point where Casey is absolutely certain that she is being pursued by an evil spirit, and even when the bizarre things that have been happening to her seem to leave no room for any other explanation, her lunkhead boyfriend says this to her "I don't think you're crazy, I just think you're hormonal."
A word of advice, gentlemen I don't claim to be any kind of all-knowing expert about the wonders and mysteries of the fairer sex, but I tend to have a natural feeling that if your girlfriend is upset about something, the suggestion that it's "that time of the month" is generally a pretty efficient way to make yourself single. Or bruised and swollen somewhere. And if she's upset because she's being pursued by demons, she may just cut to the chase and kill you.
Besides, it's clear that Casey needs a lot of help, because not only does she make all of those breathtakingly stupid decisions that horror movie cannon-fodder generally make, but she also begins to appear more and more crazy to the people around her as she begins to believe more and more that this demonic possession thing is happening to her for real.
Of course, making her look crazy is neither surprising nor interesting. It's an ancient horror movie technique intended to make the supernatural element seem more real by giving us someone to relate to the people who are looking at this girl like she's a total lunatic. Unfortunately, when the character is so undeveloped and uninteresting that it's impossible to care about her, this crazy element does nothing for the suspense. Except maybe reverse it.
There are certainly some interesting visuals in the movie, even some of the cliches (a good many of them involving the old bathroom mirror scare) are older than the hills but at least look pretty cool.
The spider-walk is lifted directly out of The Exorcist (and it's such an obvious plagiarism that I'm going to go ahead and chalk it up to an homage), and there are some pretty clever manifestations of the demon, but the movie is so slow and plodding and full of half-assed performances (even the great Gary Oldman is totally dismissable here) that it feels like even the movie is sleeping through itself. And it doesn't help matters that the climax of the film is an exorcism that consists of a lot of strobe lights and big fans in a low-rent studio.
Believe it or not, I didn't hate the movie, but I'm a long-time horror fan and I have a tendency to enjoy horror movies that most other people would punch me for suggesting. But whether or not you enjoy the lower half of the horror genre, it's definitely true that there are quite a few much better movies about demonic possession that would be a far better use of your time than The Unborn. Personally, I suggest The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which is one of the best I've seen