REVIEW: The Unborn (David S. Goyer, 2009)

When was the last time I was genuinely affected by a horror movie? It's difficult to remember. The Unborn, while not consistently frightening, breaks the chain of films that rely solely on jump-scares and cheap thrills for the kiddies. Its tense blocking creates, for the most part, an environment of horror that permeates the audience.

Goyer's directorial outings in the past have either under-impressed (Blade Trinity) or failed to interest me (The Invisible). Writing-wise he is hit or miss, Blade Trinity's predecessors being my personal favorites in their subgenre while the bland Batman experiments go the opposite direction. In this case, his pen shows plenty of promise despite often causing the mostly likable cast, led by the capable Odette Yustman and supported by the always excellent Gary Oldman and potential star Megan Good, to sound as though they're not working from a final draft. His work behind the camera makes the script pop where it could have fallen flat. He does fail entirely, however, when the characters, including the harmless but unconvincing romantic interest Cam Gigandet, pointlessly wax pseudo-philosophical, instead coming across as seventh graders who did their homework for once.

What drew me to this film was the groovy design work. An ever-present sense of dread facilitates the progression but when the things we are afraid of do manifest, the disturbing distortions in their appearances validate our having feared them when they were still unknown. Even when bodily and facial distortions are not involved, the imagery is usually effective and only suffers from too much variety (I know!).

The Unborn is not entirely comprised of positives. The modern reliance on jump-scares does indeed rear its ugly, upside-down head. This is unfortunate because as has been mentioned, the atmosphere was already of a solidly creepy nature. The startle moments generated by sudden music cues and occasionally silly CGI only serve to detract from the experience. Also detracting is the overly complex story. The premise intrigues, leading in a compelling direction... but it eventually receives layers of mind-numbing back-story that prove utterly useless as the third act, while exciting, loses focus of any previously established storytelling goals. The compelling direction it seemed to be taking in the beginning winds up as an all-too-obvious twist ending that leaves more loose knots than I think it realizes.

Well worth the watch, The Unborn is an inspired film that tries admirably to take cues from its genre-defining predecessors of the 60's and 70's. In many respects it features the makings of a classic. It may not succeed on every level but its taut ambiance is not one to be argued with and is likely Goyer's best directorial work to date.