News From Terre Haute, Indiana

At the Movies

January 13, 2009

‘Unborn’ offers up more laughs than scares

The Kabbalah. Hot college students. An abandoned mental institution. Gary Oldman. Jogging. Twins. Nazi scientists. A suicidal mother. A lost blue mitten.

What do these things have in common? They’re all pieces in the convoluted mythology of “The Unborn.”

Best as one can tell, writer-director David S. Goyer’s film is a sort of Jewish version of “The Exorcist,” which is a vaguely novel concept. Catholics are usually the ones who have all the fun purging demons. But Goyer, who wrote the “Blade” series and co-wrote “The Dark Knight,” makes things laughably more complicated than they needed to be.

Well, there are some effective scares here, and you’ll laugh at yourself afterward just for jumping and squealing like a little girl. But other images and pieces of dialogue are just as hilarious — and that probably wasn’t their intention. (Jane Alexander, as a Holocaust survivor who’s been holding onto a secret, delivers a line abut Auschwitz that’s particularly off in tone.)

Odette Yustman runs around in tight jeans, tank tops and boy shorts as Casey Beldon, a young woman being haunted by startling dreams, then a weird neighborhood boy, then hallucinatory images of insects, and finally a full-blown spiritual attack. It’s almost Bunuel-esque the way the images come at you in surreal, random fashion, especially when Casey finds a jumpy, old black-and-white film reel and projects it on the wall in her basement (of course), something that unsettles her further.

Only Oldman, who classes things up in his few scenes as Rabbi Sendak, can help Casey fend off the impending possession. (Though the exorcism itself is just a lot of high winds and noise, and the events leading up to it ultimately raise more questions than they answer, such as: Where has Casey’s dad been all this time? Shouldn’t he know what’s going on? Could his out-of-town business trip really have taken this long?)

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