The standard operating procedure when talking about a film is to exercise caution in revealing plot details. Whether you're just telling a friend about the film you and your husband saw last night or a film critic is summarizing a film's premise, it's just common courtesy not to give stuff away that's not already revealed in the trailer and ads.
That rule tends to stand with almost all genres save for one: The Crap. You don't tell your friends - or readers, who are basically the same thing - plot details because you don't want to ruin the film experience for them. However, when the film is self-destructive, already ruining the experience on its own, then to provide "spoilers" is hardly a crime.
"The Unborn," the new supernatural thriller from writer-director David S. Goyer, has a solitary saving grace. Were it not for this one aspect of the film - a plot tidbit that would qualify as a spoiler - then I would gladly slam it with the F it otherwise deserves.
"The Unborn" features Odette Yustman as Casey Beldon, a generic high school or maybe college student who's about as boring and uninspiring as one could imagine. She's not really a character so much as a female body that looks attractive when walking around scared in her underwear. The real sexism of many horror movies and supernatural thrillers is not that their female characters are often shown naked or scantily clad. It's that their makers dehumanize them by failing to write them as actual characters with personality.
Lately Casey has been having spooky dreams and strange experiences. At a recent babysitting gig she was attacked by the creepy little boy she had been charged with watching. Her boyfriend Mark Hardigan (Cam Gigandet,) is a profoundly boring, barely-defined alpha male type who dismisses the idea of a supernatural threat. Her best friend Romy (Meagan Good) is the film's stereotypical hip black friend and initially doubts Casey's ideas before supporting her.
After the attack of the babysat Casey discovers that one of her eyes is changing color. She goes to see a doctor who diagnoses the condition as being caused by Casey having had an unborn twin. Casey confronts her father who reveals that she did in fact have a brother who did not survive. The death was one of the factors that had led to Casey's mother's suicide.
As Casey digs into her family history she discovers a newspaper clipping among her mother's belongings that had the name Sofi Kozma (Jane Alexander) underlined. She goes to visit the mysterious woman in a nursing home and eventually discovers clues as to the nature of the entity attacking her and how to defeat it.
Now, if I were going to give "The Unborn" an average-to-positive review that's about all the plot summary that you'd get. However, since the film is a horrific abomination, utterly unwatchable and infuriating in almost every regard, it forfeits such deferential treatment.
"The Unborn" does a single good thing and that is in the originality of its supernatural threat. It turns out that the evil spirit haunting Casey is actually a dybbuk, a creature from Jewish mysticism and folklore. In her quest to be rid of the dybbuk Casey contacts Rabbi Sendak (Gary Oldman) who counsels her and prepares a Jewish exorcism. This variation on the exorcist concept is intriguing. Unfortunately even the incorporation of Jewish themes into the film is marred by directorial incompetence. It turns out that the dybbuk came to haunt this family because during World War II one of the family's ancestor's was the victim of the notorious Dr. Mengele in Auschwitz.
My response to this was similar to my reaction to "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas": Are you serious? You're really going to bring the horror of the Holocaust and Dr. Mengele into a low grade supernatural thriller? The inclusion of this element of the plot was tremendously out of place, distracting and unnecessary. There doesn't need to be some Holocaust-based reason for the dybbuk. There doesn't need to be a reason at all.
The film is just as shameless in how much it rips off from other, better supernatural thrillers and horror films. Of course there's obviously "The Exorcist" in more than just plot but whole sequences. The creepy little boy is straight out of "The Omen." The climax has shades of "28 Days Later" in its visuals. And the whole thing has been done before many a time in films in "The Ring" mold.
The film fails on the most basic levels. The characters it possesses are undefined. The acting is reminiscent of something one might see in a high school acting class. So the film fails as a drama. What about as an exercise in its genre? Is it scary and thrilling? Not particularly. The dybbuk, which mainly manifests itself as a child, is not very threatening. All the scares aren't really scares because we know that most of them are just bad dreams or hallucinations.
To add to the laundry list of cinematic sins is the film's obscene amount of product placement. The film opens with Casey running through the park listening to an iPod. Throughout the film she talks with Romy on her Apple laptop and later her iPhone. One of these products would have been fine but featuring all three so prominently is unforgivable. I wonder how much Apple paid for each second that its logo got to be up on the screen while Casey and Romy talked through the laptop.
I suppose the plus side of the product placement is that at least Apple is benefiting from this atrocious film's existence. "The Unborn" certainly won't do anything for those who made it, starred in it, and we haunted souls unfortunate enough to sit through it.