[Screen It]

(2009) (Odette Yustman, Gary Oldman) (PG-13)

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Horror: A young woman must contend with a spirit that's haunted her family through the generations and now has targeted her.
Casey Beldon (ODETTE YUSTMAN) is an average, college-aged young woman with a good friend in Romy (MEAGAN GOOD) and a loving boyfriend, Mark (CAM GIGANDET). Yet, she's still haunted by the death of her institutionalized mother, Janet (CARLA GUGINO), a few years back, and she worries that she might end up like her.

That's particularly true when she starts having troubling nightmares and what initially appear to be hallucinations featuring a ghastly boy, Barto (ETHAN CUTKOSKY), not to mention Matty (ATTICUS SHAFFER), a real kid she babysits but has unnerved her of recent.

When she ends up at the eye doctor when her irises start changing after the boy strikes her on the head, she's informed that she's a likely twin, much to her surprise. Her father (JAMES REMAR) confirms that her twin brother died in utero, a discovery that leads her to look through her mother's belongings where she finds a newspaper clipping about Holocaust survivor Sofi Kozman (JANE ALEXANDER).

That nursing home resident initially offers no info, but eventually changes her mind as she feels she must inform Casey of what's really occurring. And that is that a demonic spirit of Jewish folklore, a dybbuk, has been after Casey's family for generations, stemming from Nazi atrocities back at Auschwitz.

Her advice is for Casey to contact Rabbi Sendak (GARY OLDMAN) who agrees to attempt to perform an exorcism -- with the help of minister Arthur Wyndham (IDRIS ELBA) and others -- and finally rid the young woman of the progressively dangerous demon once and for all.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
A word -- or two or three -- to the wise for those making supernaturally based horror films. First, don't even think about going the exorcism route. After all, "The Exorcist" did it so well, so right and so long ago that there's no point in even trying, as anything that follows will undoubtedly pale in comparison.

Yes, it always helps to have a nubile young thing as your lead, especially if she looks good in next to nothing. But don't forget to give her as many good words as clothes you take off her. A firm tushy will obviously appeal to the target demographic (teen and twenty-something guys), but the best scary flicks have brains as well as (and usually instead of) butts.

Do include scares, but don't lift your best ones from other films, most notably the scene originally cut from "The Exorcist" but later returned in the re-release featuring Linda Blair descending the stairs upside down on all fours, like some sort of demonic crab. Sure, you can put a twist (sorry, couldn't resist) on that by having the head upside down for the crab walk, but it's just not that spooky the second time around.

And speaking of that, whatever you do, give your supernatural entity an awe-inspiring, go weak in the knees name. Yeah, I know, Beelzebub isn't that frightening and will remind most of Beetlejuice, but either of those are better than...are you ready?...are you really sure you're ready?....Okay, don't say we didn't warn you...Jumby. Yes, Jumby the evil Jewish demon.

Granted, at least the Hebrew slant on the predominantly Catholic dominated exorcism movie market is a little bit of a breath of fresh air, and one can be thankful this isn't a remake of some past and usually superior Asian spook fest pic. Even so, the rest offered by writer/director David S. Goyer (who, believe it or not, helped pen the last two "Batman" flicks) is decidedly stale, unnecessarily convoluted (did the plot really need a pivotal story connection to Nazi genetic experiments in WWII?), and -- the worst sin of all -- fairly boring.

Late in the pic, when asked if she wants to go through with the exorcism (which even without William Friedkin's seminal 1973 film would have come off as blasť), our plucky heroine (now in something more than her earlier "boy shorts") replies that she just wants this to be over. While suffering through this, I couldn't have agreed with her more.

All of which means "The Unborn" should have gestated a lot longer before being delivered, or not be conceived at all. While it does contain a memorable if goofy signature line, "Jumby wants to be born now," I'm guessing the demon's thinking "Jumby wants a new name." The film rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed January 8, 2009 / Posted January 9, 2009

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