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John’s Horror Corner: The Unborn (2009), the Dybbuk demon movie in which Gary Oldman and Idris Elba perform an exorcism.

January 20, 2020

MY CALL: Ignore the implications of the movie poster. Yes, it’s another creeping possession movie starring a cute girl in her underwear… but this is actually a good one! Some decent effects, good pacing, interesting story and an amazing cast transcend this beyond simply being a few creepy kids and jumpscares. MORE MOVIES LIKE The Unborn: Not to be confused with The Unborn (1991), this is much closer to—and far superior to—The Possession (2012). And for another 2009 movie whose solid quality and cast was overlooked because of a sultry movie poster, try Jennifer’s Body (2009).

This movie really has a serious cast. Watch out for Carla Gugino (Gerald’s Game, The Haunting of Hill House), Idris Elba (The Reaping, Prom Night), James Remar (The Warriors, Tales from the Darkside, Hellraiser: Inferno), Cam Gigandet (The Roommate, Assimilate) and Meagan Good (The Intruder, Venom, Saw V) in supporting roles.

Eerie things begin happening to Casey (Odette Annable/Yustman; Cloverfield., And Soon the Darkness). When she investigates her curious family history and some troubling Jewish mythology, no one is able to offer credible advice. So, she seeks the support of Rabbi Sendak (Gary Oldman; The Fifth Element, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Red Riding Hood) to perform an exorcism.

This often-overlooked film opens with a combination of gorgeous winterscape photography and trendy horror tropes including visions of a sickly young boy and ghostly visages in old photographs. Tropes aside, the production strikes me as quite thoughtful for such non-highbrow horror. But even if well-executed, this movie isn’t without cheaper ploys as well—like jump scares involving “unexpected insects” or sudden ghostly screams, and various poltergeist-y goings-on.

We toe the line between pregnancy horror and a haunting movie without distinctly being either as the Jewish demon, the Dybbuk, tries to transition its way into our world through Casey. Creepy kid imagery abounds as Casey is haunted with things often associated with pregnancy horror—the notion of a child that wants to be born, her unborn twin, and visions of a demonic fetus. Later in the film, there is some disturbing imagery that reaches beyond slack-jawed ghosts and wanders near Lovecraftian terror.

The special effects are solid for the time. Some limited CGI won’t hold up well, but overall I remain pleased with the effective visuals of evil. And while surprisingly not a major source of the special effects, the exorcism scene is as realistic as it gets in terms of preparation and writing, and its execution captures aspects of Prince of Darkness (1987). Writer and director David S. Goyer (Blade: Trinity) did well with this film.

This movie isn’t necessarily a thrill rollercoaster. But to its credit, even its slower parts are interesting and well-composed. Despite a poster featuring a girl in her underwear, this movie also avoids trashy tactics, nudity or gore (nor does it need it)… although there is a great back-breaker scene and a viscerally ripped-open face make-up. I’d say we get every bit that we need to remain interested and invested in the generally well-written characters and story. I quite like this film.

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