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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Unborn (review)

Fatal Position

There’s something to be said for a movie that’s still making you laugh days after you saw it. It’s probably better if that movie was a comedy, but you can’t dismiss the entertainment value you get out of a good bad horror movie that prompts snorts of derision and head shakes of mystified wonderment at random moments a week later. Like when you’re brushing your teeth in the morning and you glance into the mirror and you suddenly find yourself exhaling toothpaste out your nose as you think: Haunted medicine cabinet? Really? Someone thought that would be scary?

There’s a haunted medicine cabinet in The Unborn.
It’s hilarious, and it’s sort of awesome, too, in that no-they-didn’t kind of way, how writer-director David S. Goyer works in the ridiculousness of the haunted medicine cabinet mostly as an excuse to have his heroine, Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman: Cloverfield) walk into the bathroom in her extremely skimpy underwear to explore the odd sounds coming from the medicine cabinet, pirouette around the bathroom in her extremely skimpy underwear as she finds nothing, pirouette again as that strange knocking sounds again and she is forced to show off her extremely skimpy underwear for us again.

You have to admire Goyer’s complete lack of shame not just in this instance but pretty much throughout The Unborn, from how he borrows cast (Gary Oldman) and, it would appear, some leftover un-CGIed second-unit footage of Chicago from The Dark Knight (of which he was one of the writers) to how he desperately shovels in every crazy-ass bit of nonsense he can find in an attempt to give his “horror” movie something that pretends to resemble substance.

I mean, remember how horror movies used to be scary because they were rooted in something that people actually do have visceral fears of? So here, in what’s supposed to be a horror movie about Casey’s unborn twin — he died in utero — coming back to haunt her, you might expect that, perhaps, Casey is dealing with some hangups of her own related to pregnancy (which would, naturally, tie into the primal unease a lot of people associate with pregnancy, even people who are happy to be pregnant and want children — it’s just something we weirdly wired for, like a fear monsters under the bed that aren’t there).

But no: Goyer (Jumper, Batman Begins) just throws in random haunted medicine cabinets and bizarre and obviously discredited old wives’ tales about how newborns shouldn’t see their own reflection in a mirror before they’re a year old, or they’ll die. (Fisher Price wouldn’t sell a single crib toy if people still gave any credence to this.) He tosses in odd portents regarding lost gloves on jogging tracks in wintertime, as if this were something unusual, and tries to make things scary that simply aren’t, like when you — or Casey — are babysitting and one of the kids you’re watching gets up and starts walking around. You know: not scary in the least.

And Goyer does something that, if we’re fair to him, we really need to work hard to coin a phrase off of. As Casey investigates why she is being haunted in a such a completely ineffective way, Goyer takes it to Auschwitz. (I think that’s what we’ll call it: “taking it to Auschwitz.”) I mean this literally, in the same way that Happy Days jumped the shark when the Fonz jumped over a tank of sharks on his motorcycle.

It’s hilarious, and kind of awesome, in a “Hey, who let the Nazis in movie?” kind of way.

Everything after that is pure goofy gravy. Poor Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) shows up as a rabbi who will perform an exorcism on Casey, and we meet him when Casey steals a rare old book of Jewish lore from a library (which, frankly, means to me that she deserves whatever she gets, stealing a priceless old book like that). And she introduces herself by promising him, a total stranger, that she’s not crazy, and oh, hey, would he translate this rare old Jewish book for her. And he’s totally on board with that, because what else could he possibly have to do?

But the best — well, maybe second best after taking it to Auschwitz — is the “scary” one-liner: “Jumby wants to be born now.”

Jumby.

Hilarious. And awesome. Not really in a good way, but still.


MPAA: rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror, disturbing images, thematic material and language including some sexual references

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • Mark

    the Fonz jumped over a tank of sharks on his motorcycle.

    Waterskis, not motorcycle, and it was a shark in an underwater cage, not a tank. He jumped over buses on his motorcycle.

    But — and I’d never have chosen to watch this, at least not sober — Nazis? Really? It might just be worth it…

  • Based on his non-Nolan movies, I’m not sure Solo Goyer has much to offer in the way of interesting storytelling. Jumper had a fascinating premise, and then it just tumbled into a pile of ridiculous nonsense about halfway through. Yet another example of Sam Jackson’s Cool Factor withstanding the scourge of a shitty movie, by the way. How does he do it?

    But back to Goyer: I guess the first 2 blade movies were awesome, but how much is that due to Certified Badass Wesley Snipes and the over-arching coolness of vampire movies? Or the comic books?

    Maybe that’s it… he’s a genius at comic book adaptations and not much else? Then again, Blade Trinity? Ugh.

  • Ken

    It could be worse.

    It could have Gary Oldman in his skimpy underwear.

    Regarding “taking it to Auschwitz,” you might be on to something here. One blogger had proposed “nuking the fridge” as a replacement for “jumping the shark,” but really, why bother if they mean the same thing. Now “taking it to Auschwitz” suggests digging a deeper hole for something that’s already a failure. I like it.

  • Kat

    I’m a tad offended that you want to coin a phrase for “taking it to Auschwitz”. That part of the movie is obviously ridiculous and disrespectful but trying to turn it in to a pop culture catchphrase is tacky and insulting to the memory of the people who suffered there.

  • Frenk

    I surely won’t see the movie, but this review sure had me chuckling. Shoveling in the crazy-ass stuff, indeed!

  • Vergil

    Yeah, and while were at it MaryAnn, I’m a tad offended by the color green. Could you not use it on your site anymore? And semi-colons. If I see ONE MORE semi-colon I’m just going to HAVE to call the ACLU…

  • I’m not sure if we can thank Wesley Snipes for the coolness of the first two Blade movies. Keep in mind he allegedly acted like an utter turd during the filming of Trinity – stupid, considering that franchise was the only thing he had going for him…

    Goyer’s all over the shop…he wrote the Batman movies, but then he also wrote Jumper…he wrote Dark City, but then he also directed The Invisible and Blade: Trinity…

    He’s isn’t at all consistent.

  • Kat

    Vergil,
    It’s we’re, not were. And is there something wrong with an organization founded to defend the Bill of Rights? I’m open minded and generally find Mary Ann clever and funny, but I don’t find concentration camps the least bit amusing.

  • Alli

    Kat, there is an actual flashback of Auschwitz in the movie. That’s why she said, “literally, in the same way that Happy Days jumped the shark when the Fonz jumped over a tank of sharks.” I don’t believe Mary Ann really wants to make a catch phrase out of genocide.

  • Ken

    Kat: I’m open minded and generally find Mary Ann clever and funny, but I don’t find concentration camps the least bit amusing.

    I don’t see that MaryAnn was making light of Auschwitz. I think she was trying to point out that the film takes the cheap way out by incorporating a real-life horror rather than showing the creativity required in building its own.

  • MaryAnn

    Yes, thank you. It’s the movie that turns genocide into a bit of pop culture nonsense. I’m just pointing that out.

    I’m not sure Solo Goyer has much to offer in the way of interesting storytelling. Jumper had a fascinating premise

    *Jumper* was based on a novel, so you can’t credit Goyer for the premise.

  • I’m not sure if we can thank Wesley Snipes for the coolness of the first two Blade movies. Keep in mind he allegedly acted like an utter turd during the filming of Trinity – stupid, considering that franchise was the only thing he had going for him…

    I’m sure he was upset at how awful the third movie was shaping up to be, which makes sense since (as far as I can tell) relegating the Titular Character to a nearly Non-Speaking Supporting Role is not one of History’s Great Ideas™ but you know whatev.

    I didn’t realize Jumper was a novel… wonder if it’s any good? I’ll put it on my BookMooch wishlist and find out…. eventually.

  • Newbia

    MaryAnn, you should start putting up “Best and Worst Lines” again, and put something from this movie in it. I really enjoyed reading those.

  • I’m sure he was upset at how awful the third movie was shaping up to be, which makes sense since (as far as I can tell) relegating the Titular Character to a nearly Non-Speaking Supporting Role is not one of History’s Great Ideas™ but you know whatev.

    Of course, I can’t find the link for the life of me now, but I actually read that they beefed up Reynolds and Biel’s roles during filming because Snipes simply was refusing to participate – he’d often insist that his stunt double stand in for the long shots cos he couldn’t be bothered leaving his trailer. Reynolds is on record somewhere saying that it was a particularly unpleasant experience for everyone else. I had read also that Snipes kept calling everyone on the crew ‘cracker’ as well – though he said he was discriminated against and felt isolated cos the crew were predominantly white (hence the lawsuit)…but who knows…It was never a good film to begin with, I’m sure…

    I mean…Dracula?!

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    Stuart – the article you’re looking for is here: http://tinyurl.com/6u9xde

    One of the most astonishing on-set reports I’ve ver read.

  • Ahah, yes that’s it. Thanks Der Bruno!

    It’s actually hilarious for anyone who wasn’t involved with the film…good read.

  • MaryAnn

    MaryAnn, you should start putting up “Best and Worst Lines” again, and put something from this movie in it. I really enjoyed reading those.

    2008’s are coming in a blast momentarily, and I’ll launch 2009’s with an instantly classic awful line from this film.

  • I mean…Dracula?!

    What are you talking about Stuart? His name was DRAKE. Very hip and nineties.

    (barf!)

  • stryker1121

    I thought all of the Blade movies kind of blew…but Trinity was its own brand of terrible. There’s not one, but two scenes of Jessica Biel putting songs onto her iPod before a battle. Not to mention Dracula looking like a douchey Eurotrash model.

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