When Casey Beldon (Yustman) starts dreaming of a terrifying young child, she begins an investigation that reveals that the twin brother she absorbed when they were in the womb now a restless demon named a dybbuk has taken repossession of its mind...
From Damien Thorn to The Children Of The Corn to young Danny Torrance ‘red-rumming’ away in The Shining, cinema has long embraced the notion that children can be right scary little buggers. Maybe it’s the corruption of innocence and purity that’s terrifying, or maybe it’s the tacit understanding in all adults that, as Lord Of The Flies so expertly showed, whippersnappers are only ever a heartbeat away from becoming walking ASBOs. Either way, many directors have understood that if you want some shorthand scares, call for a kid.
It’s a notion that David S. Goyer exploits to the full in The Unborn, not least because of the unsettling presence of its villain, Jumby, a leering, snarling, white-faced, yellow-eyed ball of sheer malevolence that constantly pops out of nowhere and makes mischief.
But Goyer also manages to sustain an effective, doom-laden mood — helped considerably by the decision to shoot during Chicago’s bleak midwinter — in which the scares and shocks come at a pretty relentless pace. And while many of those are of the cat-in-the-fridge variety, Goyer also invests in a barrage of genuinely unsettling images, from dogs and old men with upside down heads, to a Wes Craven-worthy dream sequence in which the helpless Odette Yustman is pinned to the ceiling and forced to watch while the taunting dybbuk creeps into her bed
and menaces her sleeping form.
It’s a shame, then, that Goyer — a fine genre writer, as he’s proved with his work on the Blade series and Christopher Nolan’s Batman films — is unable to avoid some of the pitfalls of modern horror movies, namely a penchant for characters behaving in the most stupid and irrational ways imaginable in service of the plot, and an inability to resist the lure of often laughable bells-and-whistles, notably in the climax, in which a kindly rabbi (Gary Oldman, on loan from The Dark Knight and lending the whole shebang a veneer of class) manfully attempts an exorcism while being assaulted by a series of squibs, pyrotechnics and massive fans.
Despite some massive flaws and a disappointing over-reliance on jump scares, The Unborn is comfortably the best entry yet from Platinum Dunes, Michael Bays previously remake-happy horror production outfit.