Horror fans are a fickle bunch; we channel every last kilowatt of our personal energy into complaining about the seemingly endless stream of remakes and rip-offs that flood the box office, yet the moment a filmmaker takes the time and care to craft an original story, we're perfectly willing to condemn it sight unseen if we have even the slightest suspicion about their motives in wanting to frighten us. Perhaps nowhere is this trend evidenced more than in the sticky area of film ratings. As the genre gets ever more extreme in its imagery and subject matter, any horror film that's rated less than R is immediately suspect. Surely the filmmakers behind these presumably watered-down shockers must have sacrificed their original vision to appease meddling studio executives and sell as many tickets as possible, right? After all, what more proof do we need to be certain that the creative forces behind these ratings-challenged releases are any less than genuine besides the fact that their movie didn't need to be trimmed down from an NC-17 after causing heart palpitations for the uptight members of the MPAA, anyway? Somewhere along the line, we seem to have started equating fear with explicit suffering and graphic violence, but that hasn't always been the case, and occasionally a horror film comes along that helps us remember that a horror movie need not have bucketfuls of quivering viscera in order to be genuinely effective. David S. Goyer's relentlessly creepy take on the dybbuk legend may never be considered a classic of the genre, but if you're the kind of horror fan who gets your kicks from phantasmagorical imagery and shivers at the thought of supernatural forces beyond our realm of comprehension, you could do a lot worse than The Unborn.
From the second we first see Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman), it's obvious that something is terribly amiss. Jogging along a lonely park path, she has a bizarre encounter that chills her to the very core. Casey is being haunted by a dybbuk, a malevolent entity of Jewish folklore that has passed from this plane of existence, yet hasn't been allowed entry into the afterlife. Its sole mission is to gain reentry into our world by inhabiting human bodies. Less powerful dybbuks have the ability to possess the dead, but the stronger they become, the more likely they are to possess the living as well. When Casey's left eye starts changing color, a doctor informs her that such occurrences aren't uncommon in twins, and she begins looking into her past in an attempt to discover the truth about her origins. That investigation leads her all the way back to the mental hospital where her mother died, and into contact with a Holocaust survivor who may hold the key to unlocking the mystery that began in an operating room in Auschwitz. Enlisting the aid of the skeptical Rabbi Sendak (Gary Oldman) in order to comprehend the true powers of the dybbuk, Casey attempts to protect her friends from the murderous ghost while figuring out a way to defeat it. But the closer Casey comes to understanding the dybbuk's power, the more powerful -- and threatening -- the malevolent spirit becomes.
The Unborn is populated by a fairly talented cast that includes the likes of Oldman, Jane Alexander, and Carla Gugino, but none of them are given much to do since the true star of the film is the special effects. The surrealistic imagery is deeply unsettling from the opening scene, and only gets more intense as the movie gains momentum. And while the film isn't graphic in traditional cinematic terms, it bombards us with a steady stream of deeply horrific images that seem to be birthed from the darkest depths of the imagination. From ghostly kids to knife-wielding youngsters, skittering creepy-crawlies, and contorted monstrosities that seem inspired by John Carpenter's The Thing, we're witness to any number of unsettling creatures and concepts over the course of the film's cursory running time. As a result, The Unborn never feels compromised despite its more audience-friendly rating. And what more could a horror fan ask for than a spook-fest that feels pure in its intentions while taking full advantage of every opportunity to scare us silly? leave a comment --Jason Buchanan