Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Film Review--The Unborn

The Unborn
written and directed by David S. Goyer
starring Odette Yustman, Gary Oldman, Meagan Good, Cam Gigandet, Idris Alba, Jane Alexander, Atticus Shaffer, Ethan Cutkosky, Jane Alexander

The same old story with nary a thrilling moment to be found. A pretty girl starts having queer dreams that bleed into actual life. She embarks on a treasure hunt to ascertain precisely what the hell is wrong with her. The film combines the mythological dybbuk, Jewish Mysticism, Nazi research involving twins, a geriatric Holocaust survivor and numerous dodgy effects that neither startle or alarm.

Casey (Yustman) has been having strange dreams that are bleeding into reality. She has several hallucinatory experiences that leave her confused and very paranoid. She sees a little creepy boy (Cutkosky) everywhere and when she babysits the even creepier Matty (Shaffer) and his baby brother she finds the boy flashing a mirror in the baby’s face while mumbling something about the door being open. When she tries to turn him around he accosts her and smashes her in the face with the mirror. This kid shows up periodically to warn various persons involved in this convoluted chaos.

The Kabbalah becomes the sacred text that can drive the dybbuk back to whence it came. Apparently, the dybbuk is a spirit who is barred from heaven and spends quality time looking for a body to inhabit. Casey learns about the dybbuk from a woman named Sofi (Alexander) who she finds after discovering a clipping from the newspaper about her. The woman naturally turns out to be her grandmother and after some momentary hesitation explains the reasons for the dybbuk’s appearance. She and her twin brother took part in experiments the Nazis conducted on twins for DNA related purposes. Her brother died but was soon resurrected although she discerned that there was something possessing him so she killed him. But the little fucker wouldn’t die and has been haunting the family ever since. Casey’s mother hung herself to get away from it and now Casey is going through hell because it clearly wants something that is so obvious that the final reveal means nothing whatsoever.

So, there are a few scenes of Yustman in her underwear which is always necessary in films as predictable as this. There needs to be a bit of sex to take the mind off of the pablum being presented.

The story itself seems intent on providing very few moments of genuine terror or excitement. The effects seem amateurish and do nothing to enhance the mood the film is attempting to establish. Ultimately it’s a good thing that this girl is being chased about by a demonic phantasm who wants her terribly bad and will stop at nothing to attain it. Certainly the deaths of some flotsam along the way only adds to the importance of the great final sequence when all is settled and good once again triumphs over what it deems to be evil.

I for one sympathized with the dybbuk and its eternal striving to find a body to inhabit. . You can’t fault it for its objective because it’s a natural reaction to being banned from a proper resting place. In this film the dybbuk is demonized but it’s not really fair. I was hoping for much more mischief from the dybbuk but it merely turned off the lights, caused a bit of a wind, and sucked the lives out of a few goodly people. Frustration will cause anyone or anything to react violently and if the dybbuk could have only been allowed to inhabit a body then none of this would have happened.

Casey and her friend Romy (Good) are exceedingly tight and seem to do most of everything together. Romy thinks that all Casey needs is to relax and focus on other things because the thing she is being tormented by is essentially not real. Casey’s dad is nonexistent for much of the film so there is no solid fatherly figure until Rabbi Sendak (Oldman) appears. I admit to sitting through this for the sole purpose of seeing just what drew Oldman into this mess and I came away even more perplexed by the end. It falls on his shoulders to perform an exorcism to get rid of the terrible thing that is ruining everyone’s good time. He’s a bit dusty but thankfully Casey has brought him “The Book of Mirrors” which he uses in the ceremony to drive the dybbuk back. Oldman is underused in this film and probably finished his scenes in a few days. He makes for a formidable holy man and certainly knows how to forcefully elicit the poetry of the Kabbalah in a convincing manner. Still, it’s a shame that all of these films end the same. There is always a dark element that everyone in the film wants to cast away because it poses a perceived threat the source of which is never investigated. We simply are supposed to root for the innocent humans because they are more like us and therefore deserving of our sympathy. But by the end of this film I didn’t much care for any of the surviving characters. I wanted to follow the dybbuk as it tried and failed to find another pathway to oblivion.

It’s a terrible curse to be forever doomed to ramble with no set place to settle down and gain familiarity with order and stability. In this film the dybbuk is merely a force of evil that must be eradicated at all costs. It is a terrorist who cannot be negotiated with because in the minds of those populating this film all it understands is destruction. Whereas if one sees the film from the dybbuk’s perspective then it becomes a matter of facing nothing but hostility and cruelty at every turn with scarcely an opportunity to actualize the one thing held dear by you. From that angle it’s a much more gratifying story and would be more so if the dybbuk could finally be allowed to inhabit a body it can manipulate. Is it not impossible to destroy a dybbuk and doesn’t casting it out only make it more determined to make good on its attempt for reentry? Regardless, the film doesn’t make its case as to why the audience is supposed to invest in these characters and actually feel anything substantial regarding their plights.

Overall, this film doesn’t come across with any integrity. It’s a generic story with occasionally lousy acting and it manages to completely waste Gary Oldman which one can hardly imagine being even possible. There are interesting elements, namely the Nazi experiments, that are unexplored mainly for expediency sake. Still, what is pursued lacks any significant power to effect the viewer in any form and so by the end all one wants is everyone dead and a free dybbuk finding something vital to penetrate with its terrible form. There are a few decent freak out scenes, a bit of gore, and the boy who haunts the film is strange enough looking to keep one’s interest. Ultimately, though, the film does not stand out. It doesn’t surprise and there are no moments that can remotely be considered as suspenseful. The dybbuk is a grand element that is unfortunately categorized as a vile, pestilent thing worthy of obliteration. It’s typical of these films because humans want to see other humans survive their neuroses in tact.

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