For several years, the trend has been for Hollywood to remake Asian horror films into PG-13-rated thrillers that aren’t scary but that sort of entertain teenagers. I am pleased to report that with “The Unborn,” Hollywood has finally graduated — now, at last, we are making crappy horror films entirely on our own, without having to rip them off from Japan! U-S-A! U-S-A!
“The Unborn” was written and directed by David S. Goyer, a fairly good writer of comic-book-based screenplays, but less reliable when left to his own devices. Here he has managed the impressive feat of combining every lifeless cliché from every Asian horror film imported in the last decade into one derivative, dull hodgepodge.
Our requisite nubile heroine is Casey (Odette Yustman), a college student who lives with her mostly absent father (James Remar) after her mother went nutty and killed herself a few years ago. Now Casey is plagued by weird dreams and visions, which of course must include a creepy little boy. She learns fairly soon that she had a twin brother who died in the womb, then contacts an old Holocaust survivor (Jane Alexander) whom her mother spoke to just before she died. The old woman fills Casey in on the evil spirits and the yada yada and how to exorcise them and blah blah.
“Stay away from mirrors,” the old lady says. “If you have any in your home, you must destroy them!” If she has any mirrors? Yes, Casey, if you happen to be one of those extravagant show-offs who have MIRRORS in their homes, get rid of them now! Throw out your opulent jewels and Faberge eggs, too!
Casey finds a rabbi (Gary Oldman, surely a victim of blackmail) who offers help, while her supportive boyfriend (Cam Gigandet) and superstitious best friend (Meagan Good) regard her rapidly deteriorating mental state with alarm. Through it all, the supernatural forces manifest themselves in the usual ways: appearing in medicine-cabinet mirrors, making lights flicker, causing children to behave menacingly, forcing Casey to walk around in a tank top and panties, inspiring her to take showers, etc. The film’s climax, as you may have guessed, takes place in an abandoned mental hospital, one of just over a hundred thousand such facilities that exist within the PG-13 bracket alone.
Apart from the film’s redundancy, it suffers from this simple fact: The things that scare Casey are never actually there. So why should we be afraid of them? You can get us the first few times, but then we catch on. We realize that whatever’s happening exists only in her mind and can’t even hurt her, let alone us. In a couple minutes she’ll snap out of it and everything will be normal again. If you want to scare an audience, you have to make them feel, however irrationally, that what’s on the screen could affect them, too. It’s hard to accomplish that when the only thing on the screens are hallucinations — and shopworn hallucinations, at that.
D (1 hr., 27 min.; )