LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Groans and giggles rather than shrieks of horror will greet “The Unborn,” a horror film from about a dybbuk or demon determined to enter the body of a young woman who spends much of the movie in panties and T-shirt.
Writer-director David S. Goyer’s Rogue Pictures release, opening Friday, spends too much time establishing the lore and beliefs of Jewish mysticism only to abandon them at nearly every key moment in favor of lore and laws of horror films — crawling bugs, spooky dreams, visions of dead people and things that rattle, shake and bump in the night.
January is the month for distributors to unleash horror in a bid to attract young viewers. In fact, “Unborn” marks the first of four straight weekends of movie horror. And a week is about as long as it should last at the box office as the PG-13 film is rigged with too much silliness, gimmicks and dialogue clinkers to register on the scream scale for even the least discriminating viewer.
From the opening sequence, a young woman, played reasonably well by Odette Yustman, is afflicted by visions of a weird little boy in bad makeup. He stalks her everywhere — whether she’s jogging on a snowy road or brushing her teeth in the bathroom. This vision gets mixed up with apparitions of a fetus in formaldehyde, the aforementioned bugs, her dead mother and clues involving an unborn twin brother.
With the aid of best friend Meagan Good and sympathetic boyfriend Cam Gigandet, she traces all this back to a grandmother (Jane Alexander) she — unbelievably — didn’t know existed, Nazi experiments on twins in concentration camps and Jewish superstition. Along the way, she enlists the help of a rabbi (Gary Oldman) who may know enough to perform an exorcism. The latter is a little puzzling since the demon does not, as yet, inhabit her body, so what’s to be exorcised?
Indeed this demon seemingly can control electricity and even flashlights, shutting them on and off at will; take over the bodies of just about all the other characters; and cause multiple deaths without too much bother. Does this demon even need this woman’s body?
The antecedents here are, of course, “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist.” Unlike those films, though, Goyer spends no time developing his characters as anything other than victims. What in the world do these people do in life when they are not being plagued by bad dreams and tortured ghosts?
Perhaps aware that the spookiness quotient isn’t here, Goyer indulges in excessive close shots, sudden noises, quick cuts and other cheap tricks of the horror trade to goose his audience constantly. Meanwhile, Ramin Djawadi’s score suffocates nearly every scene in ominous tones.
What finally undoes the struggle to maintain suspense is Goyer’s dialogue, which is consistently hokey. A favorite line would be the girlfriend’s solution to her pal’s unwelcome visitations: “Maybe you should leave town.” Hey, there’s a thought.